Dawn Editorial 10th August 2023

Pipeline in doldrums

A RECENT policy statement made by the outgoing government in the National Assembly confirms that the decade-old Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline scheme has been kicked into the long grass. Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik had told the House that Pakistan had issued notice of “force majeure and excusing event” to Iran suspending its contractual obligations on the project due to the threat of US sanctions. He added that “project activities will begin once sanctions on Iran are removed and there is no threat” to Pakistani entities. The minister had also pointed out that Iran could take the matter for arbitration, which could result in penalties for Pakistan. Successive governments have handled this matter poorly. Iran has been subject to US sanctions since 1979, and if the powers that be had feared Washington’s wrath, the deal should not have been signed in the first place. However, considering that the deal was inked by two sovereign states, all avenues should have been explored to help bring it to fruition. The PDM government itself had been saying only a few months ago that the project was on. But the statement in parliament indicates the pipeline is going nowhere.

Before abandoning the project, the state must consider a few things. Firstly, at a time when a special investment body has been set up to bring foreign funds to Pakistan, will it reflect well on the country to ditch a project that was signed with much fanfare? Moreover, should the matter be dragged before arbitrators, bilateral ties with Iran are likely to suffer, while Pakistan must consider if it is ready to pay a hefty amount in penalties for reneging on the deal. Instead of throwing in the towel, all legal and diplomatic options should be explored to save the deal and bring much-needed gas to Pakistan, while the state must convince the US to exempt this scheme from sanctions.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2023

                                                                       Better half?

THE moral anxiety ailing much of society on the idea of equal rights has turned the nikahnama into a tangled web of social mores and rabid patriarchy. Hence, women, mostly oblivious to clauses of right to work, divorce with mehr, parity in domestic finances, etc, sign away all privileges. This week, the Diagnostic Study of Nikahnamas in Punjab: A Review of Women’s Marriage Rights revealed shocking statistics — 86pc of Lahore’s marriage registrars believe “brides not competent enough to negotiate terms of the nikahnama”, 85pc foresee a spike in divorce rates if the right to divorce is granted to women and 92pc agree that the right to maintenance is determined by “obedience to husband”. As few as 8pc “included the right to monthly allowance” and a mere 2pc gave the right to divorce to wives.

These figures are evidence of the mass hostility towards women’s liberties. Experts confirm that the more significant clauses — 17 to 21 — are often crossed out by the qazi or both families, making it harder for the woman to be independent or seek divorce. The sections’ application converts a marriage deed into an instrument of protection and equity. From permitting partners to add their ‘conditions’ at the time of marriage and even later, stating “if the husband has given the right of delegated divorce to his wife” to shielding the woman from polygamy, these imperil clerical dominance and patriarchal power. As a result, a marriage contract cannot contend with religio-social declarations founded on patriarchal notions and misinterpretation of a man’s position in a marriage. It is high time politicians, activists and lawyers backed their words with action so that women can exercise agency to secure their rights. For starters, they have to dispel deep-rooted misogynist exigencies by sensitising males — clerics, community elders, kin and young men — about a woman’s freedoms preserved in religion and the law. The path from thought to realisation, whereby women can claim and exercise their entitlements, is possible only if engagement, awareness and education initiatives are paramount. Our oppressive history shows us the necessity of such a shift; it augments a woman’s influence, which has a beneficial ripple effect in multiple areas of society, such as a productive, cohesive workforce and a gentler environment. This is reason enough for the story of our society to not be short on empathy and equality.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2023

Democracy lost

WITH the PDM-led government’s controversial tenure drawing to an end, it is worth reflecting on what was gained from the change of leadership its component parties imposed on the country last year.

In March 2022, with the PTI at the nadir of its popularity amidst rising inflation and general disillusionment with its capability to govern, the opposition parties coalesced around the single-point agenda of taking down Imran Khan’s government.

It had seemed like a golden opportunity at the time — a chance to bury the ‘hybrid regime’ and reposition the parties that had been sidelined after the 2018 general elections as the true and deserving inheritors of Pakistan’s political destiny.

The task before them was clear: reverse the economic slide triggered by the PTI’s bad policies and offer the people the promise of a better future closely aligned with the aspirations of Pakistan’s youthful population.

Unfortunately, those who took over never did their homework. They worsened the economic crisis by wasting months dilly-dallying over the ‘best’ response, introduced repressive and regressive policies to counter and contain the PTI, and pushed a legislative agenda that seemed tailored to suit a few vested interests rather than address the growing needs of the many.

This quickly led to disenchantment with the PDM-led government’s version of ‘purana Pakistan’. The new rulers never really figured out how to address the vigorous challenge to their legitimacy launched by the prime minister they had ousted. Misstep after misstep lost them immeasurable political capital amidst social turbulence and a perfect economic storm.

Eventually, it seems, the politicians simply gave up trying to solve political problems with the lawful means at their disposal. In their desperation to keep Mr Khan away from power, they let unelected forces back into the driving seat. The rest, as they say, is history.

The PDM-led government now leaves behind a political system ravaged by legislative subterfuge and organised subversion of the parliamentary process. It leaves the Constitution looking weak and irrelevant, and has consciously ceded civilian power in its last days to forces that have historically refused to play by any rules but their own.

How could a political movement that prided itself on utilising constitutional process to remove a ‘bad’ prime minister end up condemning Pakistan to a worse iteration of hybrid rule? One is now inclined to believe that bringing down the PTI government was never about principle.

Those who, with some justification, criticised Mr Khan for being a puppet prime minister proved more than eager to take his place. Ultimately, it was a race between two rival factions to prove who could be more ‘loyal’ and ‘obedient’ than the other. One has now won favour; but for how long is anybody’s guess.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2023

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