Daily Times Editorial 26 November 2019
The foreign funding case
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) must spare a thought for James Madison’s words: A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both. What James Madison said in 1832 has not lost its relevance in 2019 when the PTI, as a political party, has been dragging the foreign funding case for almost five years. Now, in weird manners, the core committee of the PTI has questioned the impartiality of the incumbent chief election commissioner, retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza, who has decided to hold the case’s hearings on a day-to-day basis. The party also wants the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to club the similar cases of the PML-N and the PPP, another tactic to delay the verdict. In a country where the backlog of cases casts doubt over the entire justice system, the court’s resolve should have been appreciated. Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, when he assumed the office last year, made his prime resolve to tackle the huge backlog. On the other hand, the ECP still pursues cases at a snail’s pace.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcast Firdous Ashiq Awan says the chief election commissioner is showing urgency in deciding the case and that “the ECP should follow rules, give equal opportunities to all the parties and conduct across-the-board accountability.” Her stance is justified, but the ECP has given opportunities to the satisfaction of all parties to present their defence. And still, they can avail the time as the ECP has not set a deadline to pronounce the verdict. No one can deny the fact that the PTI is popular among overseas Pakistanis and political fundraising is a norm across the world. Petitioner Akbar S. Babar, a PTI dissident, however, says millions of dollars were illegally transferred to accounts belonging to those working with the party. He moved the court in 2014, and since then proceedings have been slow, mostly because of the moves by the PTI. Soon, though, the final verdict should be out.
Iran’s fuel protests
As normalcy is returning to Iran’s streets after a week of bloodshed which left 106 people, mostly protesters, dead, Iranian law-enforcement agencies have launched an intense crackdown on rioters. The government has also restored the internet after a week-long shutdown, another sign of the government’s confidence to overcome the public insurgency triggered over the rise in gasoline prices. The public, boggled by the impact of crushing US sanctions on Iran in the wake of US unilaterally doing away with the nuclear deal, has lost a good share of savings and jobs. When the Iranian government took measures to fix the battered economy by slashing subsidies on fuel, the public’s reaction was unpredictable, putting up a new challenge to the Iranian government, already facing a load of problems – economic, diplomatic, political and so on. The fact is that Iranian people have been availing the lowest fuel prices in the world. The scale of the protest was equal to those in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon and neighbouring Iraq but the controlled media did not let the world know the real magnitude of the drive. Rioters burned banks and shops and clashes head on with security forces. Though these protests were abrupt, and led by nobody in particular, Iran’s ruling elite – Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani – both condemned them.
Iran has been struggling to stave off the grave consequences of the US sanctions through creative solutions but without much success. Since the imposed US sanctions came into effect from last year, people have been reeling under joblessness, high inflation and little earnings. According to the latest figures, inflation has gone up by 40 percent while as per IMF estimates, the Iranian economy likely shrank by 9.5 per cent this year. The currency has been devalued to a record level. Iran seems unable to tackle the onslaught of the sanctions. After the withdrawal of the US from the 2015 nuclear deal, European partners had assured their support to Iran but they have failed to oblige their promises given the impact of sanctions. Moreover, Iran’s active engagement in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon has been consuming a good deal of its resources. Iran was already facing challenges in Iraq and Lebanon as in the former, its consulate was burnt while in the latter, protesters demand zero role of Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, in the government. It seems the weak economies in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon have taken a toll on Iranian policies. Iran needs to go for lasting solutions.