Are Afghan Lives Cheap? Yes, the amount of compensation for the dead confirms

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Fakir Syed Aijazuddin

In governance, truth, like the air in the stratosphere, becomes scarce.

No voter expects politicians to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. What a voter does not expect from an elected government are half-truths, evasions and duplicities.

After three years in power, the current PTI-led coalition government has demonstrated that the standard of probity it demanded of its predecessors is in fact just another sliding scale, adjustable to suit individual circumstances. and personal whims.

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Public opinion has still not forgotten the lawsuits launched by the NAB last year against former President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for alleged corruption. They are said to have acquired expensive motor cars donated to Pakistan by foreign governments. Zardari was accused of making a “nominal payment of 15% of their total value” and of having acquired them by “dishonest and illegal means for personal gain and interest”.

The charge was a repeat of an earlier ruse when a diamond necklace, given to flood victims in Pakistan in 2010 by Turkish President Erdogan’s wife, found itself wrapped around Ms Gilani’s neck.

The law expects these gifts to be deposited in the state toshakhana. When the story broke, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the toshakhana refused to process the stolen goods because their receipt and assignment had not been in accordance with “their standard operating procedures”.

The customary exchange of gifts between governments has matured over the centuries into a carefully calibrated duo. Equivalence matters. In the 19th century, for example, gifts from Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh to visiting British dignitaries were mutually valuable. In December 1838, Ranjit Singh presented British Governor General Lord Auckland with “a bed with gold feet, entirely encrusted with rubies and emeralds”. This bed was ceded to the East India Company toshakhana, who ultimately recycled the gift by offering it to the ruler of Gwalior two years later.

Queen Victoria drew a distinction between property owned by the State (eg Crown Jewels), property owned by the Crown (now The Royal Collection Trust) and personal property of the Sovereign. This distinction is not hermetic. An expensive diamond necklace made of 80 carats of platinum-set diamonds was gifted by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to Queen Elizabeth in 1967. It is not in the coffers of the Foreign Office. It adorned the neck of the Queen, later Princess Diana of Wales, and more recently the Duchess of Cambridge.

Pakistan follows the French tradition, personified by the affirmation of King Louis XIV: “The state is me!” The modern version was replayed when Zardari as president appointed a governor of the State Bank. It was made clear to the new appointee that the president is the state, so the state bank is his bank.

The current government, after years of controversy over the hijackings of previous governments, has slipped into the mold left by them. In response to a public request for information, the federal government “refused to make public details of gifts given to Prime Minister Imran Khan by foreign heads of state”, claiming the gifts were “classified” and their ” disclosure may harm the nationality of the country of interest and its relations with other states. ”Was the normally public exchange of gifts governed by an agreement of secrecy? Were the gifts too expensive or, worse, not extravagant enough?

Such a devious tactic might not have been noticed if the US State Department had not revealed a day later that “of hundreds of gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, only five were withheld by U.S. officials in 2019.

Governments can be notoriously secretive and defensive, but sometimes even they (as Julian Assange has shown) can be humiliated in disclosure. For the first time, the UK Ministry of Defense disclosed (under pressure) the compensation it paid between 2006 and 14 for 289 civilians killed in Afghanistan, including the youngest victim – a three-year-old boy (“killed by the shock ”). The report reveals that in 2008 an Afghan family “received only £ 104.17 for confirmed death and property damage”, less than the £ 110 paid for a lost cell phone and less than the £ 662 for the six donkeys died after they “wandered to a shooting range”.

Are Afghan lives that cheap? Are Afghan children worth less than a cell phone or a herd of stray donkeys? Rudyard Kipling turned the equation upside down when, in his poem Frontier arithmetic (1886), he wrote: ‘Two thousand educational pounds / Drops to ten rupees jezail. ‘ The cost of a bullet vs the cost of a human life.
In this age of forced disclosure, governments around the world should heed Julius Assange’s advice: “The only way to keep a secret is never to have it.

Fakir S Aijazuddin is a renowned thinker and columnist from Pakistan


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