Saturday, March 08, 2008

Abbas calls for Middle East truce

Abbas calls for Middle East truce
BBC News

JERUSALEM—Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has called
for a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants
before the Middle East peace process can progress.

After meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
in Ramallah, he urged Israel to "halt its aggression
so the necessary environment can be created."

Mr Abbas suspended the talks in protest of Israel's
offensive in Gaza, in which more than 110 Palestinians
have died.

Ms Rice insisted she still believed a peace
deal could be achieved this year.

Before flying to the West Bank, Ms Rice held
talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in
Cairo and other senior government officials.

At the meeting, Ms Rice called for militants in
Gaza to halt rocket attacks on Israel, but also
said she had told the Israelis to be aware of the
effects of their military operations on innocent civilians.

She also stressed US commitment to the Annapolis
process launched in November, which envisages an
independent Palestinian state existing alongside
Israel by the end of 2008.

‘Shores of peace'

After meeting Ms Rice in Ramallah, Mr Abbas
said peace and negotiations with Israel were his
government's "strategic choice," but fell short
of announcing a resumption of the process he suspended
over the weekend.

"I call on the Israeli government to halt its aggression
so the necessary environment can be created to make
negotiations succeed, for us and for them, to reach
the shores of peace in 2008," he told a news conference.

Mr Abbas said at least 20 children had been among
the dozens of civilians killed in the Gaza Strip
during Israel's recent five-day offensive, which
was launched in an attempt to suppress rocket fire.

"No one can justify the killing actions of the
Israeli army over the past few days," he added.

"It has always been our conviction that resolving
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be achieved
through violence or counter-violence, but through
negotiations with terms of reference and international support."

Ms Rice said she was concerned about the recent
violence,but urged the Palestinian Authority to
resume talks with Israel.

"What we are trying to achieve is not easy...
but I do believe it can be done. We need very
much for everybody to be focused on peace," she said.
"We look forward to the resumption of those negotiations
as soon as possible."

Ms Rice warned that the "real threat" to peace process
is "extremists," such as the Islamist movement Hamas,
which seized control of Gaza in June.

Earlier, Hamas repeated its accusation that the
US administration was giving Israel a green light to
"massacre" Palestinians in Gaza.

"[Mr Abbas] must put an end to the negotiations and
not to content himself with suspending them," Hamas
spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Rocket barrage

The violence in Gaza has transformed Ms Rice's
trip to the region. She had hoped to be nudging
Israel and Mr Abbas towards progress in peace talks,
but is now attempting a rescue mission to prevent them
from completely collapsing.

Israel and the West have shunned Hamas over
its refusal to recognise Israel and opposition
to the peace process. Hamas ousted Mr Abbas forces
from Gaza in June, but he remains in control of
Palestinian-administered parts of the West Bank.

The Israeli military has now pulled its troops out
of Gaza, but has warned of fresh action to prevent
militants firing rockets at populated areas in southern Israel.

On Tuesday, a rocket hit the nearby Israeli town of
Sderot, causing extensive damage.

Israeli forces launched several air and ground strikes
on rocket squads and Hamas installations, killing at
least two militants.

Three Israelis have died in recent days—a civilian
killed by a rocket and two soldiers in the Gaza clashes.

Human rights groups say about half of the approximately
115 Palestinian fatalities have been civilians, and Israel
has been accused of a disproportionate military
response in breach of the laws of war.


* This article is distributed by the Common Ground News
Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: BBC News, 04 March 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Keeping Pakistan's military away from politics

by: Ershad Mahmud

Islamabad - The clean sweep by opposition parties in the
recently held national elections has uprooted President
Musharraf’s party, putting his future at risk. Asif Zardari,
leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif,
leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), surprised
everyone by joining together to form a new government in Islamabad.

This new alliance between the opposition parties may
re-orient Pakistan’s political future, empowering elected
officials to follow Turkey's example on the road to democracy.

This message of unity was well received by the people. Both parties’
leaders made a public commitment to adhere to the charter of
democracy (signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and
Nawaz Sharif on 14 May 2006 in London), which calls for the
restoration of the 1973 Constitution – in place until the 1999
military coup, ensures the supremacy of parliament, limits the
role of the military in politics and imposes restrictions on
intelligence agencies.

These key issues remain part of both parties’ electoral manifestos.
Apart from Musharraf supporters, no other political groups have any objection to implementing these political parameters. A broader
consensus among political parties has emerged to stop Pakistan’s
armed forces from indulging in the country’s political affairs,
guaranteeing that the parliament retains political control.

Currently, the president enjoys enormous powers – he can dissolve
the National Assembly and appoint military chiefs.

Pakistan’s civil society, led mainly by lawyers, is up in arms
against Musharraf and wants the reinstatement of deposed judges.
It seems that Musharraf is neither willing to restore the judges
to their rightful positions nor to quit the presidency. This stance
is likely to continue until Washington and Pakistan’s military
withdraw their support for him.

Pakistan’s army has become a key power broker in maintaining
corporate interests and has its own benchmarks for measuring
Pakistan-India relations, the Kashmir conflict and Pakistan-US
relations. It does not allow elected officials to have a say in
its internal affairs.

Unfortunately, the army’s influence is deep-rooted and widespread
not only amongst the lower classes, but also amongst certain political officials, making it difficult for it to change its ways. In order
to counter the military’s influence and power, the opposition needs
to work gradually but diligently.

It would be wise for opposition leaders to follow Turkey’s
example in doing so. Incumbent Turkish leaders made sure they never
gave the Turkish army an excuse to intervene in government affairs by safeguarding traditional Turkish priorities both domestically and internationally, apparent in the cases of Kurdish militancy and EU accession. Secondly, they made the public’s well being the
government’s top priority and introduced economic reforms to revitalise
the fragile economy.

As was the case in Turkey, Pakistan’s ruling party has remained close to public aspirations and kept its contact with the masses. If Pakistan’s elected leadership can prevent spiralling inflation, it will win people’s trust. Similarly, by combining negotiation tactics with military might, instead of just the latter, the new leadership may be able to isolate insurgents in border areas of the country.

Washington should lessen its expectations of Pakistan’s military
leaders and invest more in the country’s elected representatives.
The US strategic alliance with Musharraf has created the impression
amongst Pakistanis that it does not genuinely favour a democratic
Pakistan. Over the years, the United States has strengthened the
army’s rule over Pakistan by investing heavily in the military and by backing the country’s successive military coups. These kinds of
policies, combined with the country’s own actions, have led to a marginalisation of moderate forces in public life.

The West, and the United States in particular, must support
Pakistan’s newly elected representatives and encourage the army
to respect the public mandate and serve the country within Pakistan’s constitutional framework. Only then can Pakistan be truly
democratic, and only then can the United States forge a
meaningful relationship with the people of Pakistan.


* Ershad Mahmud is an Islamabad-based researcher focusing
on South Asia. This article was written for the
Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 4 March 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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