Archive for October, 2011

Imran Khan Laps Up Acclaim in Pakistan

Declan Walsh for The Guardian

For a decade Imran Khan has occupied the hinterland, if not quite the wilderness, of Pakistani politics. The cricket legend has won just one seat in parliament – his own – and been scorned by critics as a celebrity windbag at best and a Taliban sympathiser at worst.

But this weekend Khan dramatically transformed his standing at a stroke, bursting onto the national stage with an impressive show of street power that jolted Pakistan’s largest parties and turned received wisdom on its head.

At least 100,000 people gathered to hear Khan issue a rousing call to political “revolution” spiced with strident denunciations of government corruption.

“Declare your assets or face the wrath of the people,” he shouted, drawing roars of approval, in the largest rally for decades in Lahore, Pakistan’s political heartland.

The crowd reflected the vein that Khan has tapped – young, urban and mostly educated Pakistanis who have grown disillusioned by the chaotic politicking and inept governance of the traditional political elite. “It’s an activation of the upper middle class – people who, over the years, haven’t had a voice in Pakistani politics,” said political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.

In contrast Khan enjoys a reputation for being incorruptible and straight-talking, polished by a glint of fame. Also in Lahore was his ex-wife Jemima, who remains a supporter, and Jennifer Robinson, a London media lawyer whose clients include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “Yes we Khan,” she tweeted afterwards.

The rally set the political scene abuzz with speculation; “Imran’s Lahore rally stuns opponents” read the headline in Dawn. But large questions loom about whether he can transform his acclaim into power.

Despite his claims of a “revolution” against President Asif Ali Zardari, Khan is more likely to hurt Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who considers Lahore his political base. Sunday’s rally crowned a wave of smaller yet well-attended rallies across the surrounding Punjab province over the past three months.

“It’s been slowly taking root. People are getting disillusioned, they saw Imran as more dynamic and focused,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran journalist and analyst.

National elections are not scheduled until 2013, although a midterm Senate election next March – which is likely to see the Pakistan People’s party led by Zardari seize control of the upper house of parliament – has caused the political temperature to soar.

Electoral success for Khan would likely fracture politics further – a prospect that would please Pakistan’s spymasters and generals, who have traditionally liked their civilian leaders both shaken and stirred. Khan has faced accusations that his new-found popularity is being quietly boosted by the military, and his Lahore speech was notable for his lack of criticism of the army. Khan denies any link. “I think Imran and the army will get along very well – if he ever comes to power,” said Sethi. He entered politics in 1996 as one of the most loved public figures in a cricket-crazy nation, and the founder of a cancer hospital that remains one of Pakistan’s most respected charities.

But his politics have been more controversial. He supported Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, sided with Islamist mullahs and, in 2009, opposed an army operation against the Taliban in the Swat valley, arguing it was better to talk than fight. He boycotted the 2008 election, a move that relegated him to the chat show fringe of politics.

But in recent years he has steadily built his popularity among young Pakistanis, capitalising on disillusionment with political corruption and anger at US drone strikes in the tribal belt.

His Lahore rally echoed many of those themes. Pakistan wanted “independence, not slavery” in its relations with the US, he said, before announcing that he would be leaving for China hours later. “I am leaving at the invitation of the Chinese government. Friendship with them will be pursued to the fullest,” he said.

But critics said that while his speech was high on inflammatory rhetoric – including gratuitous attacks at some rivals and one diplomat – it was lacking in concrete prescriptions. “His next challenge is to show that he understands Pakistan’s problems – and can formulate policy to deal with them” said Zaidi.

Pakistan Emerges as Second Best Performing Market in Asia

As Reported by The Express Tribune

Despite security concerns, tense relations with the US and economic slowdown, Pakistan’s stock market has managed to rank as the second best performing market in Asia after Indonesia in 2011 so far, according to a Topline Securities research note.
Corporate earnings and reduction in interest rates helped equities so far in 2011 amongst the Asian Emerging and Frontier markets tracked by MSCI, adds the note.

Resurgence of US crisis coupled with headwinds in eurozone saw huge selling in global equity markets as risk-averse offshore investors moved to safe heavens. The MSCI All Country World Index has slumped by 8% in 2011 till October 18 on concerns about the world economy and the lack of any credible solution to Europe’s debt issue, the reason also why most Asian Emerging and Frontier markets have posted negative returns so far in 2011.

Moreover, except the Indonesian market, all markets in MSCI Asian Emerging and Frontier markets are down 5% to 39% with India and China, the two leading markets falling by 26% and 24%, respectively.

Interestingly, Pakistan with a fall of 5% is so far the second best performing market amongst these 12 countries.

Due to fear of another recession, the benchmark MSCI Word Index is down 8%. Emerging and frontier market indices also followed by falling 18% and 25%, respectively.

Pakistan, Islam & Radicalism

By Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi for The Huffington Post

I was in Kasur, a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, where the celebrated mystic poet Bulleh Shah is buried. Thousands gathered for the 254th anniversary of his death. Slogans chanted on that occasion would be branded ‘blasphemous’ by extremist organisations in Pakistan.

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.

Bulleh Shah penned these verses challenging religious extremism and orthodoxy that plagued Muslim society hundreds of years ago. He was exiled from his home town and, history has it, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery. His advice has clearly gone unheeded as my country is still yet to find peace. Not even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been spared being labelled ‘the great infidel’.

Incidentally, the same ilk of religio-political parties who now manipulate public discourse were at the forefront of using religious narrative for political point scoring before Pakistan came into being.

4 January 2011 is a day I cannot forget. Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, was gunned down by his bodyguard. He was killed for supporting a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was shot twenty six times.

For the entire week after the killing, I was scared. I don’t remember being in that state of mind since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It’s not a very heartening sight to see fellow ‘educated’ countrymen glorifying a murderer and justifying his actions based on ignorant rhetoric. Scores of fan pages popped up on Facebook, many of my friends changed their profile pictures to one of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, exalting a murderer as hero.

Very few turned out to pay homage to the slain governor in days to come, as ‘liberals’ arranged vigils in his remembrance. Yet thousands poured on to the streets to defend Mumtaz Qadri, his assassin. The media, which has been a primary tool in fanning conspiracy theories in public, had again played a pivotal role in enticing ‘religious’ emotions on this issue.

The killer of Salman Taseer had confessed proudly. The brave judge who sentenced him to death has gone into hiding and will not be re-appearing anytime soon.

7 March 2011. The start of another week of gloom and, if I’m honest, I was ashamed to be a Pakistani. We had arranged a protest to condemn the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was brutally assassinated on 2 March. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the cabinet. Only a few youngsters turned up.

When it comes to numbers, we can gather thousands but the ’cause’ has to be against India, Israel or America. Not many will show up if the demonstration is against radical organisations, or asking for introspection within.

Many who rallied for Gaza in early 2009 were not seen in protests condemning Taliban atrocities in Swat at the same time. Many who burnt down shops in anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad never stood up for Parachinar, a small town near the border of Afghanistan where thousands have been killed in sectarian violence between Sunni’s and Shia’s.

9 October 2011. I was stuck on the Islamabad Highway, the main road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi as it was blocked by flash mobs protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

Two decades and 40,000 deaths later which includes top politicians, generals and clerics – not many things have changed when it comes to checking radicalism within Islam.

Many attacks on places of worship of minority sects within Islam, recurring violent brawls between followers of different schools of thought, reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, recent acts of violence in Baluchistan and the tale of Parachinar are chapters in recent history which expose the extent of radicalisation in Pakistani society.

Soon, we as citizens of a country founded because a minority felt discriminated against and followers of the great religion of Islam, need to face up to the challenge of the radical minded and their extremist ideology.

This is a war of ideologies and is inevitably a war that must be fought with opinions and ideas; it must encourage discourse and exchange of reason. It is a war that must form the basic pillar of a new and improved national paradigm for Pakistan

We as a society cannot ignore an emerging threat from radicalism within our ranks, because if it gets too late, there might be no ‘music’ left to face.

Poor Clerk First to Win Million on India Game Show

By Nirmala George for The Associated Press

A poor government clerk from a desolate region of eastern India has become the first person ever to win $1 million on an Indian game show.

Sushil Kumar’s staggering win on the popular Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has transformed him into a role model for millions of aspiring youth yearning to escape from lives of poverty and find a role in India’s burgeoning economy.

Kumar’s win echoes the plot of the 2008 Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire,” whose impoverished protagonist won the grand prize on the show.

Kumar and his wife of five months wept when Indian movie legend Amitabh Bachchan, the show’s host, handed them a check for 50 million rupees (just over $1 million) after the contestant gave all the right answers on the show. “You have created history. Your grit and determination has made you come so far in this show,” Bachchan said.

Before Kumar went on the program, which was taped Tuesday and will air next week, he earned $120 a month as a government office worker and supplemented his income by working as a private tutor in the small town of Motihari in the eastern state of Bihar.

Kumar, 26, told viewers his family was so poor they couldn’t afford a television set, forcing him to go to a neighbor’s home to watch the quiz show. Watching him tick off correct answer after correct answer, his neighbors persuaded him to try out for the show, he said.

The trip to the Mumbai studio where the show is taped was his first ride in a plane and his first visit to a big city, he said. Kumar had clear, if modest, plans for the money.

He said he will use some to pay for a preparatory course so he can take India’s tough civil service exam, which could lead to a secure and prestigious lifetime job.

He said he will also buy a new home for his wife, pay off his parents’ debts and give his brothers startup cash so they can set up small businesses.

And he plans to build a library in Motihari so the children of his village will have access to the books and knowledge he so desperately craved, he said.

China Seeks Military Bases in Pakistan

By Amir Mir for Asia Times

While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan province, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan or in the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) that border Xinjiang province.

The Chinese desire is meant to contain growing terrorist activities of Chinese rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that is also described as the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP).

The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to well-placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Beijing’s wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both countries in recent months as China (which views the Uyghur separatist sentiment as a dire threat) has become ever-more concerned about Pakistan’s tribal areas as a haven for radicals.

Beijing believes that similar to the United States military presence in Pakistan, a Chinese attendance would enable its military to effectively counter the Muslim separatists who have been operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan for almost a decade, carrying out cross-border terrorist activities in trouble-stricken Xinjiang province.

There have been three high-profile visits from Pakistan to China in recent months; the first by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar; the second by President Asif Ali Zardari and the third by the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The Pakistani visits were reciprocated by the September 28 visits to Islamabad by Chinese Vice Premier Meng Jianzhu and Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu. This was prompted by two bomb blasts in Kashgar city of Xinjiang province on July 30 and 31 in which 18 people were killed.

The explosions provoked senior government officials in Xinjiang to publicly claim for the first time in recent years that the attackers had been trained in explosives in ETIM/TIP camps run by Chinese separatists in the Waziristan tribal regions of Pakistan.

The Chinese allegation was described by many in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad as a clear sign of the growing impatience of Beijing with Islamabad’s failure to control radical groups operating within its borders.

The Chinese charge was made on the basis of a confession by a Uyghur militant arrested by the Chinese authorities. Pakistan swiftly extended all possible cooperation to Beijing against the ETIM/TIP network. “Terrorists, extremists and separatists in Xinjiang province constitute an evil force,” said an August 1 statement issued by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry after Chinese President Hu Jintao rang Zardari to express his grave concern over the growing activities of “terrorists” belonging to the Pakistan-based ETIM/TIP network.

In a subsequent video released on September 7, ETIM/TIP corroborated earlier Chinese claims that it was involved in attacks in Xinjiang in July.

The ETIM/TIP, run by natives of Xinjiang province, a Muslim-dominated region three times the size of France, is fighting against the settlement of China’s majority Han ethnic group in the western province, describing its struggle as a freedom movement.

The ETIM/TIP maintains that the Chinese are a colonial force in Xinjiang province – which it refers to as Turkistan – and emphasizes Islam over ethnicity. Though the ETIM/TIP network on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been much weakened in recent years in the wake of the killing of many of its top leaders in US drone attacks, hardcore Uyghur militants are still shuttling between China and Pakistan, mainly because Xinjiang province shares a border with Pakistan.

The ETIM/TIP presence in Pakistan was first confirmed when one of its founding leaders, Hasan Mahsum alias Abu Muhammad al-Turkistan, was killed by Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan in October 2003.

The next one to be killed by the Americans in a drone attack was Memetiming Memeti alias Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the ETIM/TIP chief, who was targeted in North Waziristan on February 15, 2010. Abdul Haq was succeeded by Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, a Chinese Uyghur, who is well known for his friendly terms with major Taliban groups in Waziristan.

He has taken control of overall command of Chinese and Uzbek militants in North Waziristan, due to his past association with the late Abdul Haq and late Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Beijing believes that the Chinese rebels operating from the Pakistani tribal areas are well-connected to al-Qaeda, which not only trains them but also provides funding.

Thus, Pakistan and China, which have cooperated for a long time in the field of counter-terrorism, have intensified their efforts to nip the terrorism in the bud, especially after the Kashgar blasts.

In fact, it was in the aftermath of the May 2 US raid which killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout that Islamabad started playing its China card aggressively, perhaps to caution Washington against pushing it too hard. Shortly after the Abbottabad raid, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani traveled to Beijing.

Accompanying Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar had stated on May 21 that whatever requests for assistance the Pakistani side made, the Chinese government was more than happy to oblige, including agreeing to take over operations of the strategically positioned but underused port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea on expiry of a contract with a Singaporean government company.

He disclosed that Pakistan had asked China to begin building a naval base at Gwadar, where Beijing funded and built the port. “We would be grateful to the Chinese government if a naval base is constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan,” he said in a statement. Mukhtar later told a British newspaper in an interview: “We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar port.”

Knowledgeable Defense Ministry sources in Islamabad say that by having a Chinese naval base in the Gwadar area, Pakistan intends to counter-balance Indian naval forces.

However, diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Beijing, which has no military bases outside its territory and has often been vocal in criticizing American moves for operating such bases, first wants to establish military bases in Pakistan, which could be followed by the setting up of the naval base.

Therefore, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie promptly dismissed (on June 6) suggestions that Beijing was carving out a permanent naval presence in India’s neighborhood.

Answering questions at the 10th Asia Security Summit, organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Liang disclaimed moves to build naval bases at Gwadar and at a Sri Lankan port. Emphasizing his credentials as a member of the Chinese State Council and Central Military Commission, he said:
We will have a very serious and careful study of an issue of such importance to the government and the military like the reported move for establishing naval bases in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Indeed, we will have exact plans and set up a panel to discuss it if the move were for real. However, I haven’t heard of it.

Asked by Manish Tewari, the Indian Congress party’s spokesman, to spell out China’s core interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean area, Liang said:
The core interests include anything related to sovereignty, stability and form of government. China is now pursuing socialism. If there is any attempt to reject this path, it will touch upon China’s core interests. Or, if there is any attempt to encourage any part of China to secede, that also touches upon China’s core interests related to our land, sea or air. Then, anything that is related to China’s national economic and social development also touches upon China’s core interests.
The Chinese desire to have military bases in Pakistan is not a new one and has been discussed in the past.

An article published on the official website of the Chinese central government (www.gov.cn) on January 28, 2010, signaled that Beijing wanted to go the US way and set up military bases in overseas locations that would possibly include Pakistan. The obvious purpose would be to exert pressure on India as well as counter American influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The article stated:
Setting up overseas military bases is not an idea we have to shun; on the contrary, it is our right. It is baseless to say that we will not set up any military bases in future because we have never sent troops abroad. As for the military aspect, we should be able to conduct a retaliatory attack within the country or at the neighboring area of our potential enemies. We should also be able to put pressure on the overseas interests of potential enemies. With further development, China will be in great demand of military protection.
Analysts say although it might not be politically feasible for the Pakistani government to openly allow China to set up military bases on its soil, Islamabad might allow Beijing the use of its military facilities without any public announcement as a first step.

The Chinese demand to set up military bases in Pakistan has gained momentum at a time when the Indian military leadership is already raising a hue and cry over the alleged presence of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir as well as in the FANA, which was earlier called Gilgit and Baltistan.

In August 2009, the Pakistan government passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order to grant self-rule to the people of the area and create an elected legislative assembly. Gilgit-Baltistan thus gained de facto province-like status without doing so constitutionally.

Gilgit Baltistan province borders Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, China to the east and northeast, Pakistan-administered Kashmir to the southwest, and Jammu Kashmir to the southeast.

Although the supposed Chinese military presence in Pakistan’s northern areas of Gilgit Baltistan has been a matter of intense speculation in India, it was on October 5 that Indian army chief General V K Singh went public for the first time with the Indian establishment’s assessment of the kind of Chinese presence in the northern areas of Pakistan. “Around 4,000 Chinese including troops of the People’s Liberation Army are present in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” Singh told journalists in New Delhi.

However, senior Foreign Office officials of Xinjiang told this writer during a briefing in Urumqi, the capital of the province, that the Indian army chief’s claim was fallacious and must be based on some misunderstanding.

Despite the fact that diplomatic ties between China and India have improved in recent years, they are still at odds over territorial claims from both countries dating back to the India-China border war in 1962.

While India and Pakistan control Pakistan-administered Kashmir (Azad) and Jammu Kashmir states respectively, China claims part of northeastern Kashmir that it says is a part of Tibet. Therefore, Beijing is highly critical of India’s support for the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 and set up a government in exile in the northern Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

The Indian army chief was not the first senior military official to have talked about the alleged Chinese presence in the northern areas of Pakistan.

In April this year, Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, while addressing a seminar in Jammu and Kashmir, said that the Chinese footprint in Pakistan-administered Kashmir was increasing steadily and its troops were actually present along the line of control (LoC) that divides the disputed Kashmir area.

“The Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and the northern areas of Pakistan is increasing steadily. There are many who are concerned about the fact that if there was to be hostility between India and Pakistan, what would be the complicity of the Chinese. Not only are they in the neighborhood, but the fact is that they are actually present and stationed along the LoC,” Parnaik said.

Zhang Xiaodi, the director general of the foreign affairs office in Urumqi, told this writer in a meeting on October 10 that there is no truth in the allegations leveled by Indian military officials. “There are only Chinese construction teams working in the northern areas of Pakistan on certain development projects being carried out by Pakistan and China jointly. The presence of People’s Liberation Army troops there is out of question.”

At the same time, there are those in the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing who view the Indian army chief’s allegation against the backdrop of the Pakistan army’s recent decision to include for the first time Chinese troops in military exercises along the border with the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan; the 101 Engineering Regiment of the PLA took part in exercises with their Pakistani counterparts in August this year.

Analysts say China’s deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan and the joint plans to set up not only new oil pipelines and railroads but also naval and military bases, are enough to set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi and Washington. The repercussions are particularly stark for India because both Beijing and Islamabad refuse to accept the territorial status quo and lay claim to large tracts of Indian land that could come under Chinese sway once Beijing is allowed to establish military bases in Pakistan.

The fact that Gilgit and Baltistan is located in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir presents India with a two-front theater in the event of a war with either country. By deploying troops near the LoC and playing the Kashmir card against New Delhi, Beijing is clearly signaling that Kashmir is where the Sino-Pakistan nexus can squeeze India.

Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.

The Arab Spring Will Only Flourish if The Young Are Given Cause to Hope

By Henry Porter for The Guardian

Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi dead; Hosni Mubarak and family behind bars with millions of dollars of assets frozen; President Ben Ali of Tunisia sentenced to 35 years in absentia; the Bosnian war criminal Ratko Mladic awaiting trial in the Hague. We can take a moment to recognise that sometimes things go astonishingly well – the removal of these five characters from the picture is a blessing.

Whatever doubts we have about Gaddafi’s death and the absence of due process (if you can’t even decide where to bury a man, it is a good rule not to kill him), his death is a bracing lesson for the likes of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who is torturing young demonstrators to death, and President Saleh of Yemen and King Hamad of Bahrain, both of whom are drenched in the blood of their countrymen.

The knowledge that just 12 months ago Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi all looked untouchable must cause the goofy-looking butcher of Damascus and his fragrant missus to clutch at each other in the wee small hours.

The Nato intervention was right and I would say that now, even if it had not gone so well for the rebels in the last three months. At the time the decision was taken, I was in Tunisia, in the stunned aftermath of Ben Ali’s departure, looking up the timeline of the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, when General Mladic separated the men from the women and young children and went on to murder 8,000 people. Benghazi, the eastern city where Gaddafi did his military training, was as vulnerable as the Bosniak enclave. His mercenaries would have created a bloodbath if they had not been driven from the outskirts as the first air strikes began.

I wasn’t optimistic – Libya seemed too vast, Gaddafi too cunning and the rebel forces hopelessly amateur. And there were doubts whether air power alone could achieve the result that it did. But after 26,000 air sorties and 9,600 strike missions, and a lot of blood spilled, the regime is no more and David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy can quietly take a bow. Both are nimble politicians, yet it is not unduly naive to believe they were influenced by the memory of what happened in Bosnia.

There is always a basic moral requirement to intervene, but any decision to act must gauge risk and the likelihood of achieving success. The seemingly pragmatic considerations also contain a moral element, because the interventionist obviously has an obligation not to inflame local opinion or create a situation worse than the one he is seeking to alleviate. These conditions were met in Libya, yet there was the additional incentive of the country’s “sweet, light” crude and the reserves of 46.4bn barrels, which have nothing to do with morality or Srebrenica.

Stage two of the Arab Spring begins today with elections in Tunisia for the Constituent Assembly, in which the Islamist party An-Nahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, is likely to do well. This is the first big test for the west because we have to allow the people who risked everything on the streets to develop their own politics and democratic processes.

Nor should we allow ourselves to be spooked by what happens in the Egyptian elections on 28 November, when the Muslim Brotherhood’s well-organised political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, is expected to trounce nascent secular parties. Admittedly, this will not be the greatest outcome. Quite apart from the Islamists’ failure to reconcile their declared support for rights and civil liberties with the deeper convictions of religious authoritarianism, the generation of devout men likely to take power is hardly equipped to address, or properly understand, the problems of the young people who took to the streets Tunis and Cairo.

The thing that so few have really absorbed about the revolutions is that they were generational – the young rising against the tyranny and corruption but also the incompetence of their parents’ generation. The first demonstrations in the Arab Spring occurred in the Tunisian provincial city of Sidi Bouzid, where a young man set himself on fire because officials confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling without a permit. Like so many of his contemporaries, Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, could not find proper work.

Youth unemployment and the grinding lack of hope are the source of the most serious social and political problems across the Arab world. The unemployment rate among Tunisians under 25 is about 26%. Half of the 60,000 graduates released on to the jobs market every year will not find work. These are the well-educated and highly organised single young people who had nothing to lose during the uprising and have gained very little in material terms since.

To grasp what happened in Tahrir Square, you must know that 54 million of Egypt’s population of 82 million are under 30 years old and this age group makes up 90% of the country’s unemployed. The very highest rates of joblessness are among the well educated.

The UK’s median age is 40. Across the Arab world, it hovers in the mid-20s. In Egypt, it is 24.3, Libya 24.5, Tunisia 30 and Syria 21.9. Factor in regular unemployment rates in the Middle East of 25% among the young – even in the rich Gulf states – and you know that we are only at the beginning of this particular story.

The sophistication of this new generation of Arabs should not be underestimated. They require far more than sermons about prayer and clean living from middle-aged chaps to make lives for themselves in the 21st century. They will need freedom, empathy and technocratic as well as political leadership to create the jobs that will ensure stability and peace. When you talk to these educated young adults, as I did earlier this year in Tunis and Cairo, it is striking how well they appreciate that democratic change depends on job creation. Yes, they declare their faith, but it’s a given – not something they want to go on about.

If the west wants permanent change in North Africa, we have to recognise the potential of this new generation and find ways of providing stimulus and investment, even as we struggle to create jobs for our own young people. That is the only intervention open to us now and in some ways it is much more demanding.

In Libya, the guns need to be put away, a national army and police force set up and proper courts founded. The first test of the new civil society must be to give a scrupulously honest account of how the former dictator met his end. The new republic will not be served by a cover-up and by spokesmen for the National Transitional Council lying through their boots. As the graffiti that appeared in Tripoli this weekend reads: “Clean it up and keep it clean”.

Sharia Law Surprise for Secular-Minded Libyans

By Mary Fitzgerald for The Irish Times

ANALYSIS: The role of Islam could prove to be a contentious issue in the new Libya

LIBYA’S INTERIM authorities formally declared liberation yesterday with soaring speeches that praised their revolution’s victory over tyranny, paid tribute to the fallen and offered clues as to what kind of state might emerge from the ashes of Muammar Gadafy’s idiosyncratic rule.

The long-awaited declaration, made in front of tens of thousands of jubilant Libyans gathered in Benghazi, the eastern city where the uprising against Gadafy began in February, came more than two months after Tripoli fell to revolutionary forces, allowing them to seized control of most of the country.

It ushers in a process agreed by the interim body known as the National Transitional Council which will see the NTC move its headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli and form a transitional government within 30 days. A 200-member national assembly is to be elected within 240 days, and this will appoint a prime minister a month later who will then nominate a cabinet. The national assembly will also be given deadlines to oversee the drafting of a new constitution – none existed under Gadafy – and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections.

Already the process of forming a united and representative government promises to be fraught. With Gadafy dead, the fissures that always existed within the revolution, whether along regional or tribal lines or between Islamists and secular liberals, threaten to widen.

Even the fact that liberation was declared in Benghazi, rather than Tripoli, points to friction between leadership figures in the two cities – many of the NTC’s members, especially those from eastern Libya, have remained in Benghazi, the second-biggest city.

The question of who did what, whether during the war of the last eight months or during the four decades Gadafy was in power, will also determine much in the new order.

On Saturday, the de facto prime minister Mahmoud Jibril said progress would hinge on two things. “First what kind of resolve the NTC will show in the next few days, and the other thing depends mainly on the Libyan people – whether they differentiate between the past and the future,” he said. “I am counting on them to look ahead and remember the kind of agony they went through in the last 42 years.” Jibril also warned that Libya needed to swiftly find another source of income because the country had already consumed 62 per cent of its oil under Gadafy.

Those seeking hints as to what the new Libya may look like seized on particular sections of NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil’s speech in Benghazi yesterday, in which he went into some detail about the place of Islam in the post-Gadafy scenario.

“This revolution was blessed by God to achieve victory,” Jalil, who is considered devout but moderate, told the crowd. “And we must go on the right path.”

Libya, he said, would be a state where Sharia law would be the “fundamental source” of legislation and any existing legislation that contradicted Islamic principles would be immediately annulled.

It was not the first time Jalil had made such statements, and many other Arab countries have similar constitutional provisions, but Libyans of a more liberal bent may have baulked at what came next.

The new state “will not disallow polygamy” Jalil said, and charging interest will be forbidden. Some Libyans point out that polygamy was practised discreetly under Gadafy, while others interpreted Jalil’s remarks as a practical measure to address the issue of the thousands of women left widowed during the war.

These declarations, though met with cheers from the crowd, will have raised eyebrows among more secular-minded Libyans who would prefer to have such matters decided through a democratic process rather than presented almost as a fait accompli at such an early stage.

The Islamist tint to Jalil’s speech could be interpreted in different ways: it may have been an attempt to undercut the influence of more hardline elements while Libya finds its feet after Gadafy, or a bid to keep the grassroots on board as one of North Africa’s most conservative societies enters what will be a challenging period.

Either way, it shows that questions over what role Islam should play promise to be among the most pressing in the new Libya.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteWe are happy for the Libyan people for overthrowing a brutal and oppressive dictator. We condemn however his killing and not being brought to justice and the treatment of his corpse to not be treated to Islamic last rites and custom. We are also concerned by the announcement by the revolution’s leadership that Sharia Law will be the new form of law in Libya. This is not acceptable as a secular democracy is the form of government similar to Turkey that must be the model. We urge the US and other NATO benefactors that made the overthrow of Gaddafi possible to insist on a secular democratic government in Libya, otherwise all is for naught.

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