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Archive for December, 1995

The Bosnia situation – Race against time

A couple of years ago, the Bosnian Foreign Minister (now PM) Haris Siladgzic, requested the Pakistani Prime Minister that while they were very grateful for the money being given as aid, they would rather have arms so that they (the Bosnians) “could at least die with honour”. The Paris Peace Agreement provides for a NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) to oversee the fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, using force where necessary to do so. The Bosnian Muslims have a temporary reprieve at least for a year (the mandate period given to IFOR), one in which they can arm and train so as to be able to defend themselves. Given that the mandate is unlikely to be extended, it will be a race against time for the Muslims to be able to reach some level of credible deterrence.

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First women power

Our culture and traditions provide for minimum public contact between men and women. This provides an artificial barrier for women in the economic field, particularly in dealing with financial institutions. This is an unfair situation that disenfranchises the economic rights of women in developing their own capacity for livelihood, quite in contrast to the first woman in Islam who was a renowned entrepreneur. As a means to alleviate this handicap that favours the male prerogative, Ms Bhutto decided early in her first term to establish First Women Bank (FWB) having “economic empowerment of women” as its prime objective. Consequently FWB, with the experienced Ms Akram Khatoon as its first President, came into operation on 02 December 1989. Now celebrating its Sixth Anniversary of existence, FWB has certainly been successful in enhancing, in the words of Ms Akram Khatoon, “socio-economic status of women by creating opportunities for employment and self-employment in almost all the sectors of the economy”.

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One voice for freedom

The loosening of controls over the print media was initiated by late PM Mohammad Khan Junejo during his tenure. Since Junejo’s PM-ship was at the sufferance of the late dictator, Gen Ziaul Haq, the restrictions were only sparingly released. Press freedom came into full bloom in Pakistan during Ms Bhutto’s first stint as PM, much more than anytime in our history. On her part, as the greatest beneficiary of Press support, Ms Benazir remained benevolently tolerant of criticism. When she was downed the first time in 1990, the print media rose to her defence almost unanimously and carried on that vein through Mian Nawaz Sharif’s reign till she returned to the PM House the second time around, a honeymoon of sorts lasted for some time. However, being the unofficial guardian of accountability, the print media started to focus on inefficiency, nepotism and corruption in government, more sensitive to critical review this time around Ms Benazir has started to lean more on the Establishment. The chasm between her and the Press has deepened, the Establishment and a free Press being daggers drawn as sworn enemies.

Professionals like Hussain Haqqani and (now) Farhat Ullah Babar have kept the relationship between the PM and the Press going, but more times than not they have been circumvented by the mandarins who have successfully seen through every successive government.
Sensitivity to criticism is not a phenomenon confined to Pakistan alone. Former Singapore PM (and now Senior Minister) Lee Kwan Yew, is known to react badly. A man of outstanding integrity, having performed a miracle in transforming Singapore into one of the first rate economies of the world, the Senior Minister may be forgiven in not taking kindly to criticism that he views as personal. Given the fact that not only his honesty but of also those whom he has chosen to succeed him is beyond question, the curtailment of Press freedom in Singapore is not viewed with much concern by the populace, content in the knowledge that it has had a good deal, from an outstanding team of leaders in achieving a spectacular enhancement of the quality of life in the Island State. Therefore contempt proceedings, particularly against the foreign print media are a common occurrence and arouses no reaction among the masses. This is notwithstanding the fact with Lee Kwan Yew’s God-like status in Singapore, it is hardly likely that any Court would give a verdict against him, irrespective of the merits of his plaint. However, this has aroused world public reaction, the famous columnist William Safire even inviting Mr. Lee Kwan Yew to a public debate on Press Freedom. The Singapore model is much admired in Pakistan by those who are the target of media criticism, the only option previously available to the Establishment being to use intimidation by official machinery. However, given the political inroads made into our judiciary, there is reasonable doubt whether one could get the benefit of blind justice in Pakistan.

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