Dawn Editorial 1 January 2021

Rule of the mob

ON Wednesday, a raucous mob descended on the shrine of a Hindu saint in Teri village, on the outskirts of Karak, KP. Soon, videos of men — old and young, even children — tearing the building apart and setting it ablaze began circulating online. Unfortunately, Pakistan is no stranger to mob violence. According to witnesses, this horde was led by a local cleric and religious party leader. Police have now arrested 14 people in connection with that day’s rampage, while Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed has taken notice of the disgraceful incident. Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj’s samadhi has been in the news before. Built sometime in the early 20th century, it was a pilgrimage spot for the Hindu community, but was demolished in 1997 by another mob. In 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the provincial government to restore the shrine. Five years later, it lies in ashes again. What support will the government offer to the beleaguered Hindu community and how will it ensure that such attacks are not repeated?
Only a few months earlier, religious hardliners had obstructed the construction of the Shri Krishna temple in the nation’s capital. It seems like the government’s attempts to show religious tolerance are futile when large sections of society are steeped in bigotry and some have not even spared Muslim shrines; our leaders rarely demonstrate the kind of resolve that is needed to eliminate intolerance. Even if the Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj’s samadhi issue is rooted in a land dispute — and not religion, as claimed by some — it is far too easy for anyone to use faith as a cloak to hide behind, or as a weapon to coerce, harass, and eventually kill off ‘weaker’ members of society. The previous year has been marked by grief and trial for many, and there have been a number of violent attacks against minorities. One can only pray that the new year brings peace to all — in particular the vulnerable and marginalised sections of society.



Year of pain

AS the sun rises on New Year’s Day, there is hope that some semblance of normality will return to the global order. In 2020, the international system was upended by Covid-19, with the coronavirus destroying routines and enforcing a ‘new normal’ on billions. Though the infection was first identified in December 2019, its full, deadly impact was felt in 2020, when it was declared a pandemic. Recovery will take time; a second wave is tearing through nations across the world. While a number of vaccines have been readied to fight the disease, raising hopes that the tide may soon turn, the emergence of variants of the virus in the UK and South Africa pose fresh challenges to the global health community.
Indeed, there have been several significant developments in 2020. But momentous events such as the defeat of the Trump White House, the Brexit deal, and the shifting sands of the Middle East where a number of Arab-speaking countries have embraced Israel have been overshadowed by the death and economic devastation inflicted by the pandemic. While hundreds of millions across the world continue to be threatened by war and poverty on a daily basis, the coronavirus has shown that healthcare cannot be ignored by global policymakers. Once mighty economies have been brought crashing down as thousands queue outside food banks. Whole sectors are enduring extreme turbulence, millions of jobs are at risk, or have already been lost. Countless children across the world have had their education and exams disrupted, with those without access to technology missing out on online learning. But these are all by-products of the pandemic. At its heart, it has shaken the global health system to its core, from advanced countries all the way down to the developing world. At the time of writing, the global caseload was 82.8m, while nearly 2m people had succumbed to the virus or post-Covid complications.
Looking ahead, the international community must firm up its resolve to fight this pandemic, which does not recognise borders and jurisdictions. Richer states must not be allowed to procure all available vaccines; poorer states should be given equal access. Front-line health workers and individuals at high risk must be prioritised everywhere. Crucially, it is time that the movers and shakers of the global order realised that healthcare is essential, as diseases can devastate the international social and political order. As for Pakistan, thanks to an effective strategy and good fortune during the first wave of the pandemic the country escaped the worst. However, the second wave is proving lethal and the state cannot afford to let its guard down. People must be reminded that the danger has not passed, and that social distancing and good hygiene practices remain the best weapons to fight Covid-19, while wild conspiracy theories should be countered with facts.



Passport drama

AFTER claiming for months that it will bring former prime minister Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan from London, the government has decided to cancel his passport. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid made the sudden announcement during a press conference in the capital days after he said he would check when Mr Sharif’s passport would expire. Sources in his ministry revealed, however, that Mr Sharif’s passport is set to expire on Feb 16, so it appears that the interior ministry will not renew his passport if such an application is made.
While many are saying that the cancellation of Mr Sharif’s passport will render him ‘stateless’, the fact remains that he is a Pakistani national and the deprivation of his passport simply limits his international travel.
Although Mr Rashid made the announcement as if it was good news for the government, it is unclear how this will benefit the PTI — as even the optics of the move to cancel his passport are confusing at best. A lot of noise has been made on the issue of Mr Sharif’s extradition from the UK, where he has been living since November 2019 after getting bail and government permission to travel abroad on the pretext of medical treatment.
Since then, he has been declared an absconder by the Islamabad High Court and an accountability court, and the government has vowed to bring him back. In this regard, several ministers and advisers have given deadlines of January 2021 and made tall claims about the “impending success” of their requests for his extradition to the British government. It appears that the government’s efforts to persuade the UK to remove Mr Sharif were unsuccessful, as no positive response has come from the UK Home Office.
Instead of contemplating its next steps in the matter, such as beginning a conversation with the British authorities about an extradition treaty, the government has rushed to cancel Mr Sharif’s passport — which means even if he wishes, he cannot travel to Pakistan. Not only is this an own goal, it is also a strange message for the government to give to the public about its intentions. Under pressure of their own deadlines, it appears the authorities have concluded that if they cannot somehow force Mr Sharif to return now, they do not want him at all. The passport cancellation is pure politics and will not impress anyone. If anything, it gives Mr Sharif a fresh excuse to evade the courts and remain in the UK.

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