Pakistan is under fire on many fronts

The type of man Salmaan Taseer was, moderate and progressive, is not welcome in a country where militias would like to impose their ideology.

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The killing of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer reaffirms the growing extremist trend within Pakistani society, argued Dr Abdullah al Madani in a commentary for the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

His assassination came in response to his own personal strict stances against the Afghan Taliban and their affiliates in Pakistan, who strive to destroy the unity of the country and put strains on its relations with neighbour states.

The type of man he was - moderate and progressive - is not welcome in a country where militias would like to impose their ideology. That could only be achieved in a chaotic environment, which they actually are creating.

"If his direct killer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, is but one, the indirect killers, the right-wing extremists in alliance with Islamist forces, are so many and have spared no opportunity throughout the last three years to launch a smear campaign against Mr Taseer."

Now, the outlook is bleak for the Pakistani government. As well as the war in difficult terrain in the northwest, Islamabad faces mounting doctrinal conflicts between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority. Moreover, it is under fire from Washington for failing to contain the greater influence of the Taliban and al Qa'eda, not to mention the complications of recent floods and lack of foreign investment.

Change in the status of Sunnis is alarming

Lebanese Sunnis have always boasted that they never took part in any of the civil conflicts that held their country hostage for many years. But their situation today has changed; the Sunnis are at the heart of the conflict in Lebanon. Where they were once a nation, today they are a sect. In Iraq, they succumbed to violence and started behaving like minorities, observed the columnist Daoud al Sharyan in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

"The status of Sunnis has certainly staggered. The change was so catastrophic and dangerous that it became an essential cause for the crisis in the region."

This isn't a matter of sectarianism or radicalism. The purpose isn't for Sunnis to control power and deny other sects their rights. What matters is that the nation doesn't become a sect. It isn't unacceptable or unreasonable for Iraq and Lebanon's prime ministers to be Shiite, Christian or Druze in the future. "But Sunnis are the body of the nation; they are the middle class."

It is true that Sunnis in the region did indeed at one time practice oppression against other sects. This was wrong and a mistake shouldn't be corrected with another. The solution can't be the oppression or the marginalisation of Sunnis. Iraq did get involved in their isolation. Lebanon shouldn't repeat the same mistake.

A civilised separation may happen in Sudan

To feel chagrin is normal at the sight of Sudan, the largest Arab state, becoming fragmented. But at the end of the day, we must learn to respect people's wishes, which are crystal clear in southern Sudan, observed the columnist Abdulrahman al Rashed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Fifty years of struggle have gone by and hundreds of thousands died for this secession. We, as Arabs, must not see it as treason, for these are people who have the same rights we support elsewhere and Sudan's unity cannot be coerced on a category of the people that sees itself outside this circle.

Those who claim the secession is happening with mutual contentment are oblivious to Sudan's recent history. The South's desire to separate dates back to 50 years and was witnessed by all Sudanese governments that handled it wrongfully, except in 1972 when the government granted the province self-government. However, the president Jafar al Numeri went back on the promise and broke off the agreement, and the war returned.

It must be said that the referendum that started today happened in the most civilised form and with very little clashes although the pending issues between the North and the South are complex and will not be resolved any time soon.

"I believe the separation will eventually save Sudan."

Riots may spread further east

Are social and class clashes gaining prominence over ideological conflicts in Arab countries? asked Saad Mehio, a columnist with the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej. The sudden disruptions in the streets of Tunisia and Algeria warrant this question.

"In Tunisia, where a young university graduate set himself on fire in protest against unemployment, the government found itself forced to take a series of quick reform measures to stop the flow of spontaneous protests that spread from one street to another like wildfire."

In Algeria, things were not looking up either. Demonstrations against record rises in food prices, often turning violent, permeated a number of towns and there was no sign that these protests were organised by political parties. "Which is quite serious; it means that no one has control over the streets, security apparatuses included."

Morocco may be the exception in the Maghreb region. But successful anti-poverty plans initiated by the government do not mean that the country is out of the woods just yet.

Except for the Gulf countries then, other Arab states like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are likely to catch this Tunisian and Algerian grass-roots tantrum. "For like crises spawn like outcomes."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem