AMONG the few crimes considered worse than murder is throwing acid on someone, scarring them physically and emotionally for life. In a landmark judgement in 2019, the Supreme Court described acid attacks as a “bigger crime than murder”. In the latest instance, a women was attacked with acid in Lahore when she refused a proposal of marriage. The woman worked as domestic help and was accosted by the attacker when walking to her place of employment. According to the police, the suspect had threatened the woman before as well. In a case last August, a man and a woman threw acid on two women in Karachi over a property dispute. This is a deeply sadistic act, where the perpetrator’s motive is to cause the victim lifelong pain and emotional trauma. And it is no surprise that, given the intensely patriarchal structure of our society, the main victims are women who choose to exercise their free will to either reject a marriage proposal or defy some other form of male dominance. Though the frequency of such abhorrent attacks has reduced somewhat in recent years, they occur often enough, mainly because the state does not have clear laws to punish the perpetrators. They are also easier to carry out since corrosive substances are easily available for sale and the attack itself does not require a lot of force or precision.
According to independent estimates, between 1994 and 2018 some 9,340 people fell victim to acid attacks in the country. Although the Supreme Court threw out an acquittal plea of an attacker despite ‘forgiveness’ from his victim, the Acid and Burn Crime Bill, 2017, has yet to become law. The delay is incomprehensible as most perpetrators are able to slip through the many cracks in the country’s judicial system. The law must be passed and the authorities must also strictly regulate the sale of corrosive substances. According to the Supreme Court judgement, “Acid attack offenders do not deserve any clemency.” Still we await a law.
IT is the stuff of nightmares. A Pakistani family that had moved to Canada apparently to build a better life was mowed down by a hate-filled, sick mind as they went out for their evening walk in the city of London, Ontario. This gruesome crime has sent shockwaves across Canada as well as Pakistan for its sheer barbarity. Four members of the Afzaal family lost their lives in this clearly Islamophobic attack, while a child survivor is receiving treatment.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rightly termed it a “terrorist act” while a local police official says the family was targeted “because of their Islamic faith”. The attack in Ontario highlights the growing toxic nexus between Islamophobia and white supremacy in Western states, and the need for foreign governments to check this dangerous trend before more valuable lives are lost.
In many Western states, far-right groups and individuals have begun to assert themselves violently. Perhaps the bloodiest example of this was witnessed in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in 2019, when an Australian extremist went on a murderous rampage targeting some of the city’s mosques. Earlier, in 2017, Canada had witnessed an outrage when a white supremacist had targeted a Quebec City mosque. Moreover, hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans have multiplied in the US during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, while in March, US intelligence chiefs raised the alarm over possible domestic mass-casualty attacks against civilians by white supremacists.
There are different reasons for the growth of white extremism and terrorism. Much of this has been fuelled by conspiracy theories such as the ‘great replacement’ idea which roughly states that immigrants, particularly Muslims and people of colour, will ‘replace’ native Caucasians and Europeans. This hateful rhetoric has found many takers as immigrants move to the West in considerable numbers and in many cases, after years of hard work, establish themselves successfully in their new homes. For the far right, these immigrants are the perfect targets, as they are blamed for taking local jobs during periods of economic stagnation and ‘sullying’ the local culture due to their faith and practices.
The response of the Canadian government has been admirable, as Mr Trudeau and senior members of the country’s political establishment have rushed to the site of the tragedy to console Muslim citizens and condemn this act of terrorism. In many ways, this mirrors New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s impressive handling of the Christchurch tragedy. Leaders of Muslim states, including Pakistan, should learn lessons from their foreign counterparts on how to treat minorities with respect and compassion, particularly after terrorist attacks. The child survivor of this outrage must be provided the mental and emotional care he needs after witnessing such massive trauma. Western states need to do some serious soul-searching to counter the twin ogres of Islamophobia and white supremacist terrorism before more damage is done.
PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan says his government is enforcing an agriculture emergency in the country to extend maximum benefit to growers and eradicate cartelisation (by sugar mill owners). “We are going for an agriculture emergency to boost agro-yield that will help stabilise the economy. I firmly believe that the country will rise through the agriculture sector,” he reportedly told a group of farmers who had called on him the other day. It remains unclear as to what he meant by ‘agriculture emergency’. Probably, he was referring to the proposed interventions of Rs100bn spanning a period of three years under the Agriculture Transformation Plan recently announced to reduce farm input cost to encourage crop value-addition, enhance milk production, provide fertiliser subsidy, the construction of grain storage, and so on. These interventions are important to support agriculture in the short term. But they are not enough to make agriculture competitive and profitable for growers. For a sustainable and competitive farm sector, heavy investments are needed in research and development to develop new, high-yield, drought- and disease-resistant seed varieties, help farmers adopt modern technologies, improve soil fertility and water efficiency, etc.
Although the share of agriculture in the economy has dropped to below 20pc of GDP, it is still a very important source of livelihood for the rural populace that accounts for over two-thirds of the population and provides employment to 39pc of the entire national labour force. Additionally, Pakistan’s food security and almost 75pc of its exports are dependent on this sector’s performance. However, no effort or intervention will succeed in revitalising it if the hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers and smallholders are left to continue working individually. If farm productivity is to be improved and growers’ income increased, the government would have to design a new model to support these small farmers by increasing their access to credit, encouraging them to partner with one another through the formation of cooperatives to improve their terms of trade and capacity to bargain and to enhance their market linkages. These actions will help motivate them to diversify, become competitive and move towards more profitable, value-added crops for better profits. At present, subsistence growers, and most smallholders, are not directly linked with the market and are reliant on middlemen and speculators for credit to buy inputs by mortgaging a bigger part of their crops. Government support and partnerships would not only increase farmers’ incomes, they would also revive agriculture.