Dawn Editorial 10 January 2021

PDM’s way forward

THE opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance has a challenge on its hands: what to do now? After having raised expectations to fever pitch through three months of rallies and public events across the country, and after having claimed time and again that the PTI government would be ousted by January, the opposition is now in the process of shifting the goal posts. Those in the alliance who said they would boycott elections and break the electoral college for the Senate elections are today sheepishly explaining that they did not in fact mean that they would opt out of elections. Those who threatened the government of a long march in January that would drive it out of power, are now explaining that actually what they meant was that the long march would happen at the time of their choosing.
The fact is that the PDM promised more than it could deliver and now it is trying to realign its priorities in the face of some ground realities that were ignored earlier. One such reality was the PPP’s extreme reluctance to boycott the Senate elections or resign from the assemblies. PML-N, JUI-F and other parties’ leaderships should have acknowledged this reluctance and adjusted the alliance’s position accordingly. This was not done and it led to an open fissure between the PPP and others that in turn forced the other parties to make a U-turn and agree to participate in the elections.
It will not be easy for the PDM to sustain the momentum of agitation for at least the next few months. There may yet be a long march, and the PDM parties may yet exercise the option of resigning from the assemblies despite the PPP refusing to do so, but in order for all this to happen, PDM may have to start over with a new plan, a new objective and a new resolve. Easier said than done. This is why it has to first reconcile its realpolitik approach with its ideologically driven ambitions of reforming the power equation in the system. As things stand now, PDM’s narrative is a hotchpotch of conflicting aims that address individual grievances more than collective policy. In addition, the PDM parties will also need to weave some thread of logic between contesting elections and then threatening to resign. A policy of pick and choose in terms of which assemblies to resign from and which to retain control of is an approach unlikely to bolster its argument. The PDM has given itself till the end of the month for its next announcement. It may want to utilise this time to iron out its internal contradiction, knit together a cohesive plan and communicate its logic in an effective and persuasive manner. Having stumbled once, it may not have the luxury of doing so again without risking irreparable damage to its credibility.



Domestic violence bill

FOR nearly a decade, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Bill failed to be passed by the provincial assembly. Even as all the other provinces passed their respective domestic violence bills, KP’s much-needed bill was delayed due to staunch opposition — mainly from religious quarters. For instance, in 2016, the bill had been sent for review to the Council of Islamic Ideology, who rejected it on the basis of it being against religious law, or so they claimed in a press conference. Women’s rights activists and female MPAs, in turn, questioned the rationale behind sending the bill to the CII to review in the first place, when this was not done with other bills, and sought clarity on which points were objectionable. Then, after the bill was again introduced to the provincial assembly in 2019, the MMA voiced reservations, delaying its passage once again. Now, according to a recent report, the revised bill is ‘likely’ to be passed by lawmakers in the assembly’s next sitting, which is a welcome move and shows that mindsets may be changing, even if not at the pace needed. The proposed bill’s stated objective is to prevent domestic violence against women, protecting them from sexual, psychological and economic abuse, and could provide many women in the province with some degree of security against violence and exploitation, particularly within the home.
In 2013, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill to protect women, children, and other vulnerable groups from physical and psychological harm. In 2014, the Balochistan Assembly passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, similar to the bill passed in Sindh in the previous year. Then, in 2016, Punjab, which is said to have the highest number of cases of violence against women, passed the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 amidst great jubilation. It outlined the following protection mechanisms: a district protection committee, helpline, women protection officers, shelter homes, and monetary support for victims. While these bills faced their share of criticism about their perceived shortcomings, their enactment into law is a critical step, although implementation must follow for the legislation to be effective. It is vital that KP follows in the footsteps of the other provinces, and even if we do not know all the details of the bill at this point, it is imperative that it not be a toothless one.



The nuclear button

IT’S been a rough week in Washington. After a right-wing, pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol in an unprecedented, deadly rampage, there is more bad news for the outgoing American president. While the Democrats are preparing an impeachment motion, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has spoken to the US military’s top brass to ensure an “unhinged” Donald Trump does not have access to nuclear launch codes in his last days in office. The Trump presidency has of course been known for strange happenings both domestically and on the international front, and these developments are perhaps an apt denouement to an administration that has, to put it mildly, broken quite a few taboos of American politics. Jokes aside, it is indeed a matter of concern that senior members of the American political establishment are consulting their generals to ensure a sitting president does not abuse his authority where the use of nuclear weapons is concerned.
However, the irony here is inescapable. Not too long ago Pakistan used to receive lectures from the Americans regarding the security of this country’s nuclear weapons. Specifically, concerns were aired about Pakistan’s nukes falling into the hands of extremist groups. While that situation has not arisen, America’s political elites are now questioning their own president’s competency to handle the nuclear button. Frankly, after the Capitol storming anything can be expected from the US leader and it is hoped that America’s nukes remain in safe hands. Moreover, as Joe Biden’s inauguration draws closer — an event Mr Trump will not attend, again breaking with tradition — the American establishment must ensure that their outgoing leader does not indulge in any brinkmanship domestically or internationally. This includes provocations in the Middle East, specifically targeting Iran, Mr Trump’s favourite foreign bogeyman, as well as other rival states such as China. While Mr Biden may not bring revolutionary changes to Washington, many Americans, and most of the rest of the world, will breathe a sigh of relief when normality returns to the White House.

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