Dawn Editorial 10 September 2019

Halting Afghan talks

AN unexpected tweet from US President Donald Trump has put the brakes on the Afghan peace talks, giving rise to fears that the hard-won gains for a transition of power in Afghanistan may have been reversed.
Mr Trump stunned many people on Saturday evening when he announced that he was supposed to meet senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David on Sunday, but that the planned secret talks had been called off after a US soldier was killed in Kabul.
The attack that took several lives was claimed by the Taliban.
In a series of tweets, Mr Trump hit out at the Taliban, asking “what kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”
The Taliban said the US president’s words had damaged his credibility, and they have warned of more American deaths.
There is no doubt that the Taliban’s continuing onslaught ought to be strongly condemned.
The group’s hardline position of bringing guns to the negotiating table is inconsistent with the goal of peace and has justifiably angered the US administration. But to respond to the Taliban’s violence in the manner adopted by Mr Trump is not only ineffectual, it is also self-destructive.
Mr Trump’s arbitrary decision has greatly undermined the work of Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s chief negotiator on Afghanistan, who had managed to move the needle on winding down 18 years of a bloody war by getting the Taliban to agree to a landmark accord “in principle” just days ago.
Although the US may have legitimate concerns about the high levels of violence in Afghanistan, it is entirely possible that increased diplomatic pressure on the Taliban could have resulted in lesser bloodshed and persuaded the insurgents to engage with the Ghani government.
It is true that in an ideal situation, a ceasefire would have been in place as warring parties negotiated. It is equally true that the Taliban have no qualms about displaying their strength to put pressure on their adversaries, especially as they are not bound by time constraints. But surely this makes continuing with the peace talks — accompanied by a closer look at Afghanistan’s long history of civil war and hardline positions — all the more necessary.
Where dialogue makes things possible, walking away from negotiations achieves nothing.
Calling off the talks will hardly lead to the change in the current situation that the Americans are hoping for. In fact, arbitrary moves by the US president will only intensify the cycle of violence in Afghanistan and create more uncertainty in the region.
The Trump administration should know better than to look for quick-fix solutions to the Afghan war. Meanwhile, any dreams of a foreign policy win before the next US election must give way to the realisation that Afghanistan is too serious a matter to link to domestic politics.


Endangered freedom

“WHEN journalists lose their rights, we all do”. Thus states a landmark report — the outcome of an extensive process involving input from multiple stakeholders — by the British House of Commons’ influential Foreign Affairs Committee on the state of global media freedom. There is perhaps no better way to encapsulate the critical importance of a free media as a watchdog for the public interest. However, as the report’s title notes, this is “an endangered liberty”. The nature of the threat it describes is multifold, and evolving in light of changing global circumstances. There is of course physical violence, by the state and other actors emboldened by their contempt for press freedom. Nearly 1,000 journalists have been killed between 2008 and 2018 due to their work: the rate of impunity is 90pc. Hundreds have been thrown behind bars on false pretexts. Moreover, the online space has created its own challenges to press freedom. Firstly, it allows the persecution of journalists across borders, even if they have escaped their countries of origin, a form of harassment particularly vicious in the case of women journalists. Secondly, digital technologies offering the advantage of advertising to target audiences have dealt a blow to traditional revenue streams. These financial constraints are further exacerbated when repressive regimes withhold government advertising to force compliance; some journalists, for the sake of survival, allow themselves to be co-opted by the nexus between government and big business. The message by the report’s authors is unequivocal: the UK must be proactive in defending media freedom, regardless of its political interests, and support the creation of an international mechanism to investigate and punish “the abuse of journalists when their governments cannot or will not do so”.
Unfortunately, there is good reason for Pakistan to be mentioned in the report as one of the countries where press freedom is in growing peril. Not too long ago, the body count of journalists killed in the line of duty was irrefutable evidence of the risks that media persons face. In recent years, however, more covert and sinister means are being employed to coerce them into submission; these tactics often leave no trace, and hence give the perpetrators deniable plausibility. Those in power can thus falsely assert — feigning outrage at any suggestion to the contrary — that the media is absolutely free, even as newsrooms in the country and reporters on the ground endure relentless pressure to work to a particular agenda.


Above the law?

POLICE constable Faiza Nawaz was simply carrying out her duties at Lahore’s Ferozewala court when she instructed advocate Ahmed Mukhtar to not park his car in the no-parking zone. Instead of obeying orders, however, she alleged the lawyer grew angry at being told what to do and resorted to violence. He kicked her in the shin and then slapped her — an inexcusable act of humiliation directed towards a woman doing her job. The lawyer was soon arrested. In a photograph, he can be seen smiling impishly in handcuffs, while being escorted to the courtroom by Ms Nawaz herself. Just as swiftly and bizarrely, however, he was released, due to a supposed ‘mistake’, with his name written incorrectly in the FIR.
Following his release, Ms Nawaz expressed her lack of faith in the “cruel system” in a now widely circulated video statement. She spoke about how some lawyers had resorted to her character assassination and sending threats to her family, while she felt abandoned by her own colleagues. Since she was certain that she would not get justice, Ms Nawaz expressed her wish to resign from her position in the police force that she said she had joined to help serve her community, particularly in getting justice for women. Her refusal to quietly bow to immense pressure and unjust tactics by the lawyers’ fraternity in Ferozewala led to great media interest, and finally the Punjab police and government took notice. By taking a brave and principled stand and speaking up against the abuse she faced, the police constable is an inspiration for many. There is another point to be made about the bullying behaviour of the lawyers. Time and again, we have seen members of the lawyers’ fraternity behave like thugs or a mob of hooligans, as they resort to violence, bigotry and chauvinism, particularly in Punjab. No one is above the law, least of all its custodians. Let’s hope justice is served this time.


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