- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 26, 2000

Pakistan's constitution respects diversity?

Concerning the Nov. 14 Commentary column, "The other rogue state; In Pakistan, even some Muslims are persecuted," Khalid Duran is misinformed that minorities in Pakistan do not enjoy fundamental rights. In truth, these rights are enshrined in the constitution.
Ahmadis serve and have served in Pakistan's government in such important posts as lieutenant general, home secretaries and police officers. Ahmadis still pray in their own institutions, practice their faith, and only those who wish to immigrate to the United States report a few incidents of violence that occur in any community where many people of different religious faith and culture reside.
Islam preaches tolerance. Pakistan has had the privilege of having a Christian chief justice. Even today, there are Hindu judges, ministers and civil servants in the government.
There is no exodus of religious sects from Pakistan. The country still has a large number of Ahmadis, Christians and Hindu living in different cities.
In Hindu India where the concept of a caste system is still prevalent, a Christian bishop and his sons were burnt alive by religious zealots. Even today, low caste Hindus suffer discrimination. They cannot drink water from the same well as other castes, nor can they marry in any other caste.
The writer paints a biased picture of Pakistani society. I urge you to get the facts straight before painting such a glum and biased picture of Pakistan.
New York City

Helmet laws a hard sell, especially overseas

In "Clinton gives heads up to unhelmeted Vietnamese cyclists" (Nov. 20), your reporter notes that democracy is a much easier sell than mandatory helmet laws. Riders worldwide are coming to realize that helmets cannot protect against the hazardous conditions cyclists and motorcyclists face.
Helmets are no defense against the undisciplined traffic of many nations and no shield against undisciplined motorists here. Distracted and self-absorbed, too many American motorists today are guilty of "DWD" driving while distracted. They drive while using cell phones, applying cosmetics and reading newspapers and pay too little attention to other motorists, much less look for motorcyclists.
We can advance safety while safeguarding rider choice regarding helmets. In this nation, the next Congress and president can compel the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to embrace, at long last, its primary mission of accident prevention by channeling Section 402 grants to states to specifically enhance rider training and motorist awareness.
Also, NHTSA can better focus on prevention by ceasing a distraction of its own its propensity to lobby states to adopt mandatory helmet laws, an activity prohibited by a provision of federal law routinely flaunted by the agency.
Overseas, we hope to safeguard motorcyclists by giving them a voice to advocate their freedom and safety. Together with our chief ally in the Pacific Rim, the National Federation of Motorcycle Clubs of the Philippines, we are working to identify riders throughout the region who, without our help, already find themselves at the nascent stages of what is undoubtedly a motorcyclists' rights movement.
The movement here in the States is one of many footnotes in the pages of war. Returning U.S. combat veterans who took to the road turned to political action, often because they were seen as different for the clothes they chose to wear and the motorcycles they chose to ride.
Today, our movement may become part of the reconciliation of war. A Vietnamese chapter of ABATE Asian Bikers Aimed Toward Education is now being seriously discussed by the founders of the motorcyclists' rights movement in America.
Whether they ride Vespas or V-Twins, bikers of every description and in every nation realize that motorcycling is not merely an expression but a catalyst of freedom.
Vice president of Government Relations
Motorcycle Riders Foundation

Kazakhstan correspondence continues

In the Oct. 4 Commentary column "More words than deeds on Kazakhstan?" professor Amos Perlmutter expressed his biased vision of my country's governmental processes. A response to that letter by Kazakhstan Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliev evoked a counterresponse from Rinat Akhmetshin of the Kazakhstan 21st Century Foundation ("Truth is, Kazakhstan president's record is hellish," Oct. 19).
While I respect the right of Mr. Perlmutter and Mr. Akhmetshin to be critical of Kazakhstan, their opinions do not reflect the real state of things in the republic and are far more appropriate to tabloids than serious political and economic analysis. Kazakhstan's priorities are the protection of political freedom and the market economy.
Kazakhs are not living under some sort of primitive "regime." They are, rather, members of a modern society striving to improve its social institutions through democratic mechanisms, using the United States as a model.
Neither Mr. Perlmutter nor Mr. Akhmetshin understands the real state of social, economic and political development in Kazakhstan. According to the assessment of the International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, economic growth of Kazakhstan amounted to 10.5 percent, thanks to the implementation of consistent and deep market reforms. Foreign experts consider Kazakhstan's banking, financial and tax systems to be the best among the countries of the region, including Russia. According to some financial publications, Kazakhstan is among the 20 countries with the most attractive investment climate.
The U.S.-based International Foundation for Election Systems awarded President Nursultan Nazarbaev a diploma for Outstanding Contributions to Democratic Development in December 1999, evidence of the republic's achievements in implementing democratic reforms and its commitment to the ideals of a free society. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's High Commissioner for National Minorities and the Parliamentarian Delegations of the European Commission both observed that Kazakhstan could serve as a model for many countries in terms of observance of human rights and the rights of national minorities.
Mr. Perlmutter expresses concerns about the closing of two oppositionist newspapers, and yet every month, tens of new printed and electronic publications are being registered in Kazakhstan. Naturally, some simply cannot stand up to competition, yet the reasons for closing have far more to do with management and the marketplace than with political affiliation.
The presence of a healthy opposition is a significant feature of a democratic society, and the official opposition has had its own functioning press and political organizations since Kazakhstan was formed. While these organizations are weak and not very popular, that can be attributed to the weakness of their leaders.
Mr. Perlmutter's complaints on the dissolution of the Kazakhstan Parliament in 1993 and 1995 are hardly pertinent because those dissolutions were the result of applying the so-called principle of checks and balances espoused in the U.S. Constitution. Because this principle was applied, Kazakhstan did not slide into chaos and violence. Would it be better for the inevitable political differences in Kazakhstan to be settled by blood?
Because of the stability of state development, Kazakhstan multiplied its potential after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rational use of natural and economic resources also has allowed Kazakhstan to achieve significant social gains. The average salary and pension in Kazakhstan are the highest among the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and in the near future, the salary of doctors and teachers will increase. The fight against poverty and the social protection of the population are as critical as the movement toward democracy.
Mr. Perlmutter previously has expressed concerns about international drug trafficking and nuclear security in the region. However, the United States is merely the fifth-highest contributor of humanitarian aid to Kazakhstan. Does this mean that nuclear security and drug trafficking are not concerns of the United States? While Mr. Perlmutter criticizes the U.S. administration for its policies, he fails to call for real assistance. Mr. Perlmutter also ignores the fact that Kazakhstan gave up its nuclear weapons at the beginning of its independence.
I believe Kazakhstan should proceed from, first of all, its own interests when dealing with other countries. Kazakhstan has embarked on the thorny path of the development of democracy and the market economy of its own free will, not for the purpose of obtaining legitimacy in American eyes. It is simply in the best interest of Kazakh society.
Civil Party of Kazakhstan
Almaty, Kazakhstan

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