agenda Taal Matol
up the heat valve
As tense as Tank
A profile of Tank as a centre of militancy especially in the last couple of months
By Javed Aziz Khan
become arguably the worst amongst the 24 districts of the NWFP to live in --
where shooting a person is like having a cup of tea.
prevails in the region right from Pezu in Lakki Marwat up to the two
Waziristan Agencies where the Pakistan army fought for almost three years
against foreign and local militants in connection with the global 'War on
recently it was a part of the southern Dera Ismail Khan district but was
given the status of a separate district some years ago. The town, a gateway
to the lawless tribal areas, is surrounded by district Lakki Marwat, Dera
Ismail Khan and South Waziristan and is situated at a distance of over 300
kilometres from the provincial capital, Peshawar.
deteriorating law and order situation in the district has forced the
organisers of a local festival, held every year in connection with the death
anniversary of Pir Sabir Shah Qadri, to observe the event silently. Neither
the traditional sports were played nor the drums were beaten this year as the
people of the district were terrified and tense. A number of pamphlets are
circulating in town, with written decrees about shoot to kill all the
hypocrites i.e. journalists, politicians, army men, government officials and
several others. Tension generally prevails across the town. Trade centres of
the city give a deserted look.
are facing numerous problems while moving across the town after sunset in
connection with any emergency because night curfew is still clamped on the
district. "I had to move the dead body of my relative from Peshawar to a
village on Jhandola Road but it took several hours to get permission for
entering the district. The policemen and security personnel were looking
terrified by seeing several vehicles coming towards them as they thought it
might be a convoy of militants," Khizer, a local of Tank settled in
Peshawar tells TNS
peaceful even when people were being killed in the fighting between the
Pakistan army and militants, both foreigners and locals, in the two
Waziristan Agencies. Being a settled district, it was never expected that the
problem would come down to the town and militants would start picking up
youth from schools for the purpose of 'jihadi training.' Though the practice
continued for several months, the locals did not dare to resist or even voice
their concern. The people settled in Peshawar and other parts of the country,
however, contacted certain quarters to bring the matter into public notice.
The police even then kept silence as the law enforcers themselves had come
under attack by the militants on quite a number of occasions. A district
police officer (DPO) who could never dare to resist the militants movement
was attacked last year where he lost a gunman but himself remained unhurt.
consulting Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the opposition Leader in the National
Assembly, who is considered the most respected man in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank,
North and South Waziristan, the provincial government brought changes into
the administrative structure of police in the area. The new aggressive
administration preferred to halt the progress of militants instead of keeping
silent that led to an ugly incident in the last week of March.
party intercepted some miscreants outside a privately run Oxford Public
School when the administration of the school complained that militants were
taking away over a dozen of their students for training without any
permission from their parents. Two of the militants were gunned down and a
police inspector was killed in the incident that sparked widespread clashes
across the Tank district. The clashes continued for several days, resulting
in around 33 killings from both sides. Thirty people were killed from the
militants' side as claimed by the government authorities, while three of
those killed were law enforcers. Militants attacked the private and public
properties with rockets, hand grenades and other sophisticated ammunition.
The government ultimately had to clamp curfew on the town to avoid further
from imposing curfew, the authorities engaged the locals in ensuring peace in
the district. A 35-member jirga, comprising local Senators, MNAs, MPAs,
nazims and other elders, was constituted and was assigned to negotiate with
the militant leaders and seek their help in restoring peace. Senator Maulana
Saleh Shah and MNA Merajuddin after a meeting with Baitullah Mahsud, one of
the top commanders in the two Waziristan Agencies, told the jirga that he has
denied involvement of his men in the Tank episode. The jirga and the
administration continue to make their efforts to improve the law and order in
the town. The situation
gradually started returning to normalcy and people took a sigh of relief for
couple of weeks. The curfew was lifted and the business started in routine.
But it was not the end.
militants retaliated with more power after a few days of silence. This time
they targeted law enforcing agencies and top government officials. An army
vehicle was blown up on Jhandola Road, resulting in the death of two
soldiers. Seven army men were also injured in the incident. This was followed
by an attack on the vehicle of the assistant district officer of the Frontier
Constabulary. But the worst of these incidents was the attack on the family
house of political agent (PA) Khyber Agency, Amiruddin, on May 29. Those
killed included six members of the family of Amiruddin, including women and
children, and seven guests of the family.
jirga from Waziristan has also met the PA Khyber Amiruddin to condole the
death of his family members and clarify the position of their tribesmen in
this regard. The miscreants have been once again suppressed by using force as
well as involving the elders for negotiations. This time the brother of
Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Maulana Attaur Rahman, who is also a Member of the
National Assembly from Tank, has been asked to play an active role.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Dera Ismail Khan, Zulfiqar Cheema,
affirmed that the writ of the law would be extended to each inch of the
settled part of the country and those who would come down to Tank from tribal
areas would have to submit their weapons at Jandola check post before
entering the settled area. "The situation in Tank needed committed
efforts that we have made recently. The situation has improved and the law of
the land has been completely implemented in Tank," he claimed.
Tank, but a number of other districts in the South are going through the
worst time of history. District Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan have recently
experienced curfew in the recent past while situation is getting worst in
Lakki Marwat and Bannu. Criminals are killing and kidnapping people at the
pretext of militants. There is a dire need to take a stern action against all
the criminals in these districts as well as tribal agencies so the sense of
fear among the populace in these areas could end.
Mian Ijazul Hasan in Boston on current political developments...
By Beena Sarwar
Pakistanis based in
America, from taxi drivers and gas station attendants struggling to make ends
meet to wealthy doctors and bankers, have traditionally been an apolitical,
even conservative lot. Many were moved to activism by the nuclear blasts of
1998 catalysed. In New York, Pakistani taxi drivers demonstrated jointly with
their South Asian colleagues against the nuclearisation. On the west coast, a
diverse group of professionals formed Friends of South Asia that has
consistently lobbied for peace. The events of 9/11 catalysed more Pakistanis
here to engage with progressive politics in the US as well as 'back home'.
Current events in Pakistan have aroused more people out of their apathy and
into a state of energized excitement geared towards somehow supporting
democratic politics. Many have come together under the banner of the recently
launched Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy in Pakistan (www.crdpak.com).
Pakistanis in the Boston area had a chance to hear Mian Ijazul Hasan on
current political developments. Mian Ijaz wears several hats -- a Masters in
English from Government College Lahore, and St. Johns College Cambridge,
painter, professor of art, author of Painting in Pakistan (1990)... and a
long time political activist who has been arrested several times, since his
first arrest in 1977 after Gen. Zia took over power. He is member of the
Pakistan People's Party's federal council and former secretary general of the
PPP Punjab (and chairman policy planning Punjab and Manifesto Committee
member). Currently in America as Benazir Bhutto's special envoy, he addressed
a small private gathering last week, hosted by Anwar Hakam and Khalid Mahmood
(Friends of South Asia).
Giving a brief background
to the current situation, Mian Ijaz noted that Pakistan "went wrong from
the very beginning. It was envisioned as a federation, and the federating
units joined the federation on this promise, which was never implemented.
Pakistan was meant to be a parliamentary democracy, but the people's right to
establish and dismiss governments has been violated."
Commenting on the army's
role in Pakistan's politics, he pointed out that it had become central as
early as 1948. "The India threat was exaggerated in order to develop
Pakistan as a national security state rather than a state concerned primarily
with the welfare and development of its people. They used billions to build a
nuclear weapon to protect against India, and argued that we would not need to
spend as much on a conventional army any more. We got the nuclear weapon but
the conventional army still gobbles up a huge chunk of our budget."
He briefly touched on the
current state of lawlessness and insurgencies on the north-western fringes
and Balochistan, and the Taliban are re-grouping, before coming to the
current judicial crisis which he termed as 'the tip of the iceberg'.
"It is a unique
movement in which all sects and political parties are coming together. There
has been spontaneous and massive support for the Chief Justice as evident in
the 15 mile long rally from Islamabad to Lahore; between 60,000-100,000
people thronged the recent rally in Abbottabad -- where normally the maximum
crowd that can be gathered is normally 25,000."
The Chief Justice, said
Mian Ijaz, is "the spark that lit the prairie fire. The image of police
grabbing him by the hair to push him into the police car was flashed in all
the media and caused great outrage. The whole nation felt brutalised and
people united on this issue. The lawyers stood their ground and wore their
black coats in 114 degree heat. As PPP Gen. Secretary for four years, I know
how much it costs to organise rallies -- to hire buses etc for a rally of
60,000 people costs around Rs 70 lakh. But these rallies have been
spontaneous, and people have flocked on their own in the thousands to see and
hear the CJ. And most remarkably, there has been no violence at all, no
public property damaged. For the first time the higher judiciary is working
with the people rather than with the army or the bureaucracy. And right now
there is only one issue in Pakistan -- the restoration of the Chief Justice.
If we empower the Supreme Court now, it will never again legitimise the
Mian Ijaz added that
"the CJ had taken suo motu notice of some 6000 cases involving the
auction and sale of companies, rape and disappearances. Musharraf feared that
the CJ would not allow him to go for a re-election of the office of
President. Some people have criticised the lawyers for coming out on the
streets. One photo was constantly flashed in which a lawyer is flinging a
stone at police. There is something fundamentally wrong with the state when
those who protect the law are in conflict with the law-enforcers. People say
that this is not the role of lawyers. But that is precisely what their role
is, to resist efforts to tamper with the Constitution."
Coming to the process of 'Talibanisation'
in Pakistan, Mian Ijaz commented that "The army enabled the MMA to form
government by accepting seminary graduates to be accepted as BA equivalents
(and by not allowing the mainstream political parties to participate in the
elections). In the NWFP, the issue of Pakhtun nationalism can only dealt with
politically. As for the issue of Talibanisation, it is there because of the
army. The army's principle aim was to marginalise the two major political
parties that Musharraf saw as the principle threat. The religious parties
know they can never form a government in Pakistan, their strategy is to
penetrate the state."
The only way to counter
Talibanisation, he said, is to "ensure that there are free and fair
elections that bring in legitimate representatives of the people. Otherwise
the extremists will gain -- as Senator Joe Biden correctly wrote in his
recent letter to Condoleeza Rice. Only civil society and politicians can
handle these issues."
Some of those present did
not accept Mian Ijaz's contention that the army must return to the barracks.
They criticised politicians as 'corrupt' and the two main political parties
as having 'not delivered' during their terms in power. Someone brought up the
issue of the local feudal lord telling 'his' people where to vote.
Mian Ijaz acknowledged that
there are many problems but insisted that the answer was not military rule,
but more democracy. "I am not here to defend the political
parties," he added. "But I do know this, that when I was imprisoned
under civilian rule, I would be out on bail in no time. When I was arrested
during Zia's military regime, it took Aitzaz Ahsan four weeks to find where I
was being held and interrogated by civil and military personnel (in the
Lahore Fort, which at least the PPP dismantled).
"The bottom line is
that we need to strengthen civil society, rule of law and the political
process, the judiciary and accountability. It's only when moderates are in
power that talibanisation can be countered. Regardless of the politicians'
corruptions or incompetence, we need to uphold the constitution and remember
that Pakistan is a federation."
He agreed that corruption
was a problem but pointed out that "only a small percentage of the
budget goes through the politicians' hands in the first place. Aslam Beg has
confessed that the army used money to form the IJI but the case has not even
come up for a preliminary hearing."
More important is the issue
of accountability. "The Indian army gets its salary from parliament and
has to report to parliament. In Pakistan, the army's salaries are paid from
US aid. There is never any debate on the military budget in the Pakistani
parliament (that's why there has been such an uproar over Ayesha Siddiqa's
book on military economy). People ask why the generals support Musharraf --
the reason is that they are benefiting as an institution."
"The one point agenda
right now," he concluded, "is to restore the Chief Justice and
ensure that the army stays out of the country's politics."
Beena Sarwar is a
journalist currently on a research fellowship at the Kennedy School of
Governmentat Harvard University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Talking of the 'Amaltaas'
set me off on the nostalgia track, and from things we have forgotten to
things we never had was a short step -- like nursery rhymes and other poetry
for kids for instance. The other day I came upon a book of poems for
children, and ploughed through and could see that they are not of the stuff
that will become classics. In fact, now that I think on it, we must be
eternally grateful to Sufi Tabassum Saab for writing those wonderful rhymes
that have already stood the test of time.
Most peculiar in a people
who have long prided themselves on their poetry, and in fact held that it is
peculiarly their art form, and no one else has ever written poetry of a depth
and extent to match us Orientals. If no one has told you this before, I am
telling you now. That vast treasure house of magnificence which is the poetry
of the related languages of Arabic, Persian and Urdu is an entity compared to
which all other poetry pales into insignificance. And in all of it there is
very little for kids!
And so too for stories for
children, the fairy tales and the adventures; when we have children that age,
we have to look for the Hans Christian Andersens and the Mother Gooses and
the Grimms. There are really no stories for children, except some silly
'moral' stories which the kids hate and will never follow. We have a long
tradition of 'Jinns' and 'Peris' but they live in the 'Talism-e-Hoshruba' and
the land of Raja Inder and have not been used for their proper function which
is to entertain kids. But then that may be our own fault. Trouble is that my
own childhood was rather a long way in the past, but I do remember one or two
There was for instance the
tale of the too healthy wife. A man married this lady, who seemed nice
enough, but he was amazed when she told him what her diet was: In fact it
needs explaining. When the best cooks set out to cook a 'Chappatee' the test
of their expertise is that the 'Chappatee' be small and delicate, and in fact
to swell up into a round ball which is composed of a thick side taking up
most of the flour, and a paper thin other side which is so thin it is
Even when a 'roti' is
cooked in a 'tandoor' parts of it bubble up to form thin balloons, and these
are called 'Roti Ka Phapholas'. The point is that the lady insisted her total
diet at any meal was one 'roti ka phaphola' and a 'chirriya ki zabaan', the
tongue of a house sparrow!
Or there was the story of
this gent who woke up one day to find that a pair of 'Bhootnas' was growing
out of one of his teeth! Now a 'Bhootna' is really the diminutive of a 'Bhoot'
which is small and basically mischievous rather than evil. Nevertheless they
had to be got rid of, and when the man drove them off, they just hung on to
his neck -- and then swung round and round and round until all of his neck
was worn away except the aorta!
There was nothing to do
except take a piece of 'Nivaar' which is a long strip of woven cotton, three
inches wide and a mile long, used to thread the bedstead called a 'Pallang'
-- he took this strip and wound it round his thin neck, and then went around
wearing a high-necked 'Shirvanee'! I have no memory of how either story
ended, or if there was a moral which it wasn't. The whole point was the
premise which caught the imagination and is a fond memory sixty years on.
A blow by blow account of the scuffle in the press gallery on June 6
By Naveed Ahmad
The journalist fraternity
was all set, last week, to record its protest against draconian amendments in
the existing oppressive PEMRA act -- in line with its tradition of token
walkout from the press gallery.
The Pemra Ordinance
virtually gave an absolutely free hand to its chairman over the content and
equipment of the private television network, something the information
ministry through its Principal Information Officer has been trying to gain
over print media for the last many decades.
Just a day earlier, the
government had eaten up its own words by withdrawing an FIR against the
journalist representatives for allegedly trying to occupy the prime
minister's office after their torch-bearing protest against the promulgation
of amended Pemra Ordinance.
Filled with anxiety and
anger, the journalists entered the National Assembly gate one by one on June
6 expecting the session to echo hot-blooded exchanges on the Karachi massacre
and other offshoots of an unresolved judicial crisis.
Convened after a break of
22 days ahead of the government's last budget on June 9, the National
Assembly session was undoubtedly set for a bumpy start.
Ever since the judicial
crisis unfolded on March 9, the government media managers had little to smile
about and the worst was only unfolding now. Genuinely conscious of the fact,
the information ministry had swung in action to frustrate the embarrassing
protest and walk out inside the parliament premises.
Ashfaq Mahmood, Principal Information Officer (PIO) Chaudhry Rasheed and a
few well-informed officials from the government worked a textbook style plan
to deflate journalists' protest. They had issued over three dozen special
identity cards to low level government employees. The official media wizards
did not invent this tactic but only inflated the size.
"I personally called
up the PIO by 4 pm and advised against sending planted government officials
in the press gallery to thwart our protest," says Afzal Butt, president
of Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists.
According to him, the PIO
admitted sending the PID staff in large numbers to the National Assembly.
"On my reminder that the journalists would be holding protest against
amended Pemra Ordinance, he said he would instruct them to walk out of the
press gallery with the journalists."
Soon after the recitation
of the holy Quran, the journalists started leaving the press enclosure but
over three dozen people sat firmly in their chairs.
On the insistence of
journalists, the defiant individual told them that they belonged to
information ministry and would not join them in the protest. Only a few could
produce the identity cards while others lost temper and turned violent.
The angry journalists
followed the suit and retaliated effectively to abusive language and punches.
Within 15 minutes, bruised faces, broken chairs and torn papers marked the
prestigious press gallery.
The house set aside the
question-hour and other agenda for the day to debate the unprecedented
incident in Pakistan's parliamentary history for hours before Speaker
Chaudhry Amir Hussain adjourned the proceedings until next morning.
But the speaker gave no
indication about when he would give a ruling over the matter that, he said,
had 'worried him too much'. Though he did acknowledge suggestions for an
amicable solution, while some ruling coalition members called for action
against not only the protesting journalists but also opposition members who
joined the slogan-chanting for allegedly violating the sanctity of the house.
ministers Wasi Zafar and Ijaz-ul-Haq exploited the opportunity to slate the
media persons. Speaking on the floor of the house, Wasi had the stubbornness
to say that "those protesting at the (building) gate are not journalists
but ghundas (hooligans)".
The law minister sought
strict legal and punitive action against the journalists who raised slogans
in the press gallery and thrashed the officials. He also rejected Aitzaz's
call for a parliamentary committee to probe the matter.
Wasi 'corrected' the house
that press was not the fourth pillar of the state. As usual, he
re-interpreted his comments as a result of afterthoughts and advice.
Ijaz-ul-Haq also exchanged
heated arguments with some protesting journalists who recalled the
ruthlessness of his father General Ziaul Haq's who went to the extent of
flogging some defiant media persons. He reportedly said that journalists
could not digest the newly found freedom
Like Ijaz and Wasi, certain
other ministers too termed the incident as contempt of parliament.
Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani, who was out of the country on the
fateful evening, terms the incident as 'unfortunate'. Speaking to TNS, he
said: "We will ensure that nothing of the sorts ever happens
While the protest,
sloganeering and brawl became the centre of attention of the assembly, PML
Chief Whip Sardar Nasrullah Dareshak, Deputy Speaker Sardar Yaqoob, Minister
of State for Interior Zafar Iqbal Warraich, PPP MNAs Raja Pervez Ashraf and
Khurseed Shah moved swiftly to defuse the situation.
Information Minister for
State Tariq Azeem rejected that non-journalists were present in the press
gallery. He rather hinted at internal dispute amongst the journalists
covering the proceedings.
Immediately after the
incident, National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir cancelled all press cards
issued to journalists for their entry into the parliament house for the
coverage of the current session of the assembly.
After extensive talks with
the Speaker and parliamentary delegation, a seven member committee comprising
journalists was formed to probe and resolve the matter. This saved the
government from press boycott of its much celebrated fifth and the last
With the withdrawal of
amendments in Pemra Ordinance and fruitful negotiations with the NA speaker,
the media fraternity has apparently gained some advantages. Now the
information ministry is no more the issuing authority for press cards of
parliamentary coverage. At the same time, an understanding has been reached
between the journalists and the speaker about walkouts from the press
"We will inform the
speaker first and he would try to resolve the matter by summoning the
officials concerned in his chamber. If he fails to bring resolve the matter,
then we would stage a walkout," said Afzal Butt.
Though new identity cards
have been issued to journalists by the NA secretariat, their number remains
far less than required. Currently, two journalists of smaller publications
and four from the bigger media organisations are allowed to cover the
proceedings. However, the PID officials (fake journalists) are still sharing
the press gallery with the journalists.
The journalists fear press
gallery row may crop up again owing to lack of infrastructure to handle media
at the NA and Senate secretariat. The intelligence officials and PID
personnel may again be used to exploit an embarrassing situation for the
government. Even today, the basis on which the protest was lodged -- presence
of non-journalists -- remains to be addressed.
The presence of journalists
in the press gallery could be reduced and their work load curtailed if the
Senate and National Assembly websites are used effectively. The Speaker
should direct the staff to upload vital information such as agenda, draft
bills, question hour and other documents in real time on the website.
it is impossible to gauge the outcome of events in the country. Several
months ago, in mid-March, as the lawyers began their agitation against the
ouster of the Chief Justice, it was widely believed the movement would fizzle
out. Instead it has quickly snowballed, developing into a true crisis for the
regime, as people frustrated and angered by the current socio-economic and
political situation join hands with the lawyers.
as has been the case since the 1950s, it is easier to judge what is happening
within the hidden sitting rooms of politics by developments in a quite
different part of the world. The inter-linkages between Washington and
Islamabad are of course well established, and as such the statements from the
powerful US State Department, coupled by the unexpected visit from US
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard
Boucher, assume a special significance.
and President Bush have, until now, publicly taken the stance that the unrest
in Pakistan is not of any serious nature and they remain firmly behind
President Musharraf. Indeed, it has often seemed in recent years and months
that Washington has failed to look beyond Musharraf and has persuaded itself
that he will remain in place forever, at the 'forefront' of the war on
terror, as Bush so often likes to say. The fact that even as this battle
continues, new madrasa schools have been cropping up, extremist armies have
taken control of huge tracts in the NWFP and have begun threatening
Islamabad, seems not to have shaken US convictions regarding the
trustworthiness of their ally.
latest statements hint at growing concern over the internal situation in
Pakistan. Even as the aircraft carrying Richard Boucher hovered over Asian
skies, prior to touching down in Islamabad, the US State Department issued a
hard-hitting statement, hoping that if President Musharraf 'continues in
political life' he would set aside his uniform. In the same statement, the
State Department spokesperson also emphasised a free media was essential to
any functional democracy and stated the US believed President Musharraf would
seek re-election from a new parliament, formed after balloting.
has at the same time also been conjecture that Richard Boucher's visit is
aimed at attempting to forge the much talked about bridge between President
Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, as such setting in place a US-orchestrated
formulation for the next polls. In his expectedly diplomatic comments
regarding his visit, Boucher has of course denied any attempts to intervene
in intricate politics of Pakistan, and has stated he discussed 'bilateral
relations' in his meetings with foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri and other
foreign office decision-makers.
there can be little doubt Boucher has also been engaged in a process of
judging mood in Pakistan, and at the same time making it clear to Musharraf
that the US would like polls to be seen as being fair. While concern with
democratic practice or the situation of people in any nation has never been a
primary consideration for Washington, as its record in Latin America, East
Asia and now Iraq proves, it would seem the State Department is at least
interested in making a show of a principled adherence to democracy.
that the US comments regarding uniform run contrary to those made by
President Musharraf, who apparently regards his khakis as his 'second skin',
are also important, given some suggestions that Washington may see wisdom in
raising its vision beyond President Musharraf should this become necessary.
there is every indication Boucher's visit is intended to test waters. By all
accounts, his talks with a broad cross section of politicians, including many
prominent members of opposition parties, are reported to have been frank and
quite forthright. Some observers have been insisting they can detect a
distinct change in US mood, but this of course may be nothing more than
wishful optimism in a country where political parties bank on support from
Washington as the means to power, rather than on the backing of people. The
street power that popular parties were once able to command seems to have
diminished over the past decade.
perhaps more than anything else, the visit by Richard Boucher and the intense
focus of attention on it, is a saddening reminder of how Pakistan has
squandered much of its sovereignty in the course of its long-standing
relationship of servitude with Washington. More than the people in whose name
decisions are made, more than the political parties engaged in their exchange
of rhetoric, it seems obvious Washington holds the key to decision-making. If
this were not the case, Boucher's visit would of course not have assumed so
great a significance as is being attached, with political figures vying
desperately for a chance to whisper a few words in his ear.
as the displays of sycophancy continue; even as politicians accept their
serfdom to the US power -- they would do well to keep in mind that throughout
history, the US has had little qualms about abandoning so-called allies, and
perhaps still more dangerously, loyalty to Washington can in today's global
political environment bring only distrust and hatred from ordinary people --
who, eventually, will inevitably determine the future political direction of
By Omar R. Quraishi
The title of this column
may be slightly misleading in that one will be talking separately of
diplomats and editors.
First about diplomats.
According to Wikipedia, diplomacy is the "art and practice of conducting
negotiations between representatives of groups or states". Issues of
peace-making, trade, war, economics, culture and so on are usually discussed
by diplomats. The word itself comes from the Greek 'diploma' which means
'folded in two'. Over the years and by the time of the Roman Empire,
'diploma' was used to describe official travel documents such as
"passports for imperial roads" that were stamped on double metal
plates. Apparently, the English philosopher and statesmen, Edmund Burke
(otherwise famous for writing such classics,especially in conservative
circles, as Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790) is said to have
introduced the word 'diplomacy' into the English language (after it first
appeared as 'diplomatique' in French.
Over the time, the phrase
'to be diplomatic' came to signify someone who spoke in a polite and civil
tone without being blunt and straightforward. However, to be diplomatic has
now assumed a negative connotation in that it is used for someone who, for
the sake of tact and civility, is unwilling or unable to speak the truth.
Ambassador and high
commissioner are positions that diplomats reach at the pinnacle of their
careers. These positions require one to be diplomatic, but often diplomats in
such positions are just the contrary. A good example that comes to mind is
Zalmay Khalilzad who was America's ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan and is
presently its envoy to the United Nations. He often spoke his -- or perhaps
his master's -- mind where he could have done better just keeping quiet. Then
there was a British ambassador to a Central Asian country in recent years who
was outspoken to the extent that he had to be removed from his post -- he has
since become an outspoken voice against British foreign policy.
Closer to home, there have
been some ambassadors and high commissioners who have spoken in a most
undiplomatic fashion. Of course there was Robert Oakley, America's ambassador
to Pakistan from 1988-91, who many thought behaved more like a viceroy. In
more recent times, Britain's former high commissioner, Mark Lyall Grant, said
something about the expanding role of the military that did not go down too
well with the government (although much of what he had said was spot on). His
successor, Robert Brinkely, said something (also spot on) in mid-May in
Lahore which ruffled quite a few feathers in the government. As a diplomat,
Mr Brinkely surely stepped out of line but he was merely echoing the
sentiment of most Pakistanis (and repeating something that is already known
as the stand of the Commonwealth and the UK) when he said that Commonwealth
countries expected President Pervez Musharraf to quit his post as army chief
and hold free and fair elections and that an independent judiciary was
crucial for democracy in Pakistan.
Almost as if in a huff, the
Foreign Office called these remarks unacceptable and said that they were
"unsolicited and tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of
Pakistan". More recently, the EU as well as the US State Department have
publicly asked the government,indirectly as well as directly, to refrain from
imposing any curbs on the media since a free and independent media was an
essential feature/pre-requisite for democracy. In the EU case, the Foreign
Office again went into a 'huff-and-puff' mode while no response was
forthcoming on what surely was 'tantamount to interference in the internal
affairs of Pakistan' on the part of the US Department of State.
This double standard on the
part of the Foreign Office became even more difficult to ignore when the Imam
of the Kaaba, Sheikh Abdur Rehman Al Sudais, came visiting Pakistan. Almost
on a daily basis, he told Pakistanis that they should shun extremism and
violence. He spoke (admirably so) against suicide attacks and said that
Muslims needed to alter themselves from within and so on. However, he met a
10-member delegation representing the Lal Masjid clerics in Murree (the Saudi
ambassador in Pakistan was also reported as being present in this meeting)
and prior to that he said that the Lal Masjid clerics were doing no service
to Islam because the responsibility for carrying out jihad rested with the
state/government and not any individual group. But surely, his meeting the
Lal Masjid delegation amounted to "interference in the internal affairs
of Pakistan". What does the Foreign Office have to say to that? Or do
they have a policy of only picking bones with statements by ambassadors/high
commissioners that embarrass the government (read speak the truth)?
As for editor, one under
whom I worked died recently. In fact, another one, Ahmed Ali Khan, died a few
months ago, but the one being mentioned here just passed away a couple of
weeks ago. Tahir Mirza was my editor for around 30 months in Dawn's Lahore
office from 1998-2000 and again in Karachi from 2004-06. Incidentally, his
last day was my last as well -- he chose to go into retirement and I to this
newspaper. The best thing about him as an editor was that -- like a good
practitioner of his craft-- he insisted on always having the other side's
version, being a stickler for facts and on publishing a piece of writing if
it was good, regardless of the reputation/status, or otherwise, of the person
who wrote it. May his soul rest in peace.
writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.