Dawn Editorial 11 February 2021

IS attacks

A SERIES of recent deadly attacks linked to the militant Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq point to the disturbing fact that the feared terrorist outfit is far from vanquished. Reports emerging from Syria have said that at least 26 fighters allied with Damascus were killed by IS elements in the eastern part of the country. Moreover, a gruesome blast in a Baghdad market last month — in which over 30 people were killed — was also traced back to the self-styled ‘caliphate’. In addition, according to media reports, IS has launched scores of attacks in eastern Syria over the last month, essentially creating a reign of terror in a largely lawless region. It should be remembered that IS sprang from and was nourished in such chaotic conditions — an enfeebled government in Iraq and a Syrian regime facing a civil war were unable to secure their respective territories, giving the shock troops of the ‘caliphate’ plenty of room to manoeuvre. Now, despite the efforts of the Western-led coalition as well as the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, to pursue the outfit, it has managed to regroup and replenish its militant arsenal perhaps in preparation for an attempt at recreating itself.
At its height, IS was knocking at the doors of Baghdad and Damascus while also inspiring the formulation of ‘chapters’ around the world. While the fanatical outfit has been weakened, it is certainly not a spent force, which means that the states most affected by it — Syria and Iraq — must be supported by regional and international powers to completely wipe out the group’s presence. The Syrian civil war is in a low phase, with Bashar al-Assad’s forces having the upper hand, while levels of violence in Iraq are also down considerably. Therefore, both states must receive all possible help from the international community, for if the IS terrorists are allowed to spread their tentacles across the region once again, the entire Middle East region will suffer the consequences of ignoring this grave threat.



Votes for sale?

RIGHT on cue, a video has emerged purporting to show what happens in a corrupt political culture where votes can be bought for a price. The clip shows a group of KP MPAs receiving wads of money, ostensibly as a bribe in exchange for their votes before the 2018 Senate elections. It is the latest twist in the government-opposition tussle over whether the forthcoming Senate elections should be held through a secret ballot as the Election Act 2017 stipulates, or through a show of hands.
Seen in the video are the PPP’s Mohammed Ali Shah Bacha, some PTI legislators and two Qaumi Watan Party MPAs. The group includes Sultan Mohammed Khan, who went on to join the PTI before the general elections in 2018, and became provincial law minister. The immediate fallout of the video has claimed Mr Khan’s scalp, forcing him to resign. Meanwhile, former PTI MPA Ubaid Ullah Mayar, one of 20 lawmakers expelled from the party for allegedly selling their votes in the 2018 Senate elections, has claimed the video actually shows the legislators being given money for joining the PTI before the general elections that year. It seems safe to say there are still many questions pertaining to the circumstances in which the recording was made.
What is, however, clear is that the video buttresses the argument for holding the election through a show of hands — especially important at a time when the Supreme Court is deliberating on President Alvi’s reference filed on Dec 23, 2020, in which he has sought its opinion on the matter. The PTI government has approached the issue in various, concurrent ways. It tabled a constitutional amendment bill seeking open ballot in the Senate election. When that move came to naught after the opposition blocked the bill, it promulgated an ordinance amending the Election Act 2017 to provide for a secret ballot. And all this while the apex court has yet to give a decision on the reference.
Such a multipronged strategy inevitably raises the question, why now? A proposal was floated in mid-2020 to end the secret ballot in the upper house elections, but with the government and the opposition at perpetual loggerheads, neither that nor a wider set of electoral reforms has materialised. Of course, the government does have a point when it says that a secret ballot encourages horse-trading, although it did not appear to have been troubled by the practice on earlier occasions when it was a beneficiary.
On the other hand, the sanctity of the vote is a fundamental democratic principle premised on free choice rather than the dictates of one’s party. Regardless of the merits of both arguments, the issue must be deliberated upon by parliament and a decision arrived at through consensus. Without buy-in from the electoral college as a whole, the government’s move will lack the stamp of legitimacy.



A charter of economy

THE only thing there seems to be a consensus on at the moment is that there is a dire need for a consensus on the economy. Various governments have floated the proposal over the years for a ‘charter of economy’ type of document that encapsulates the major parties’ views and provides a minimum common agenda for all. In the past, the PML-N floated the idea while it was in power, then the PTI raised the matter again after it won the elections, and now the Senate deputy chairman, Saleem Mandviwalla of the PPP, has again suggested the need for such an understanding while delivering a talk at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There are good reasons to support the proposal, especially given how policy reversals by successive governments have marred Pakistan’s economic management over the years. Most damaging perhaps are those policies that everyone has opposed while out of power but found themselves constrained to follow once in government, such as entering into IMF programmes.
The understanding to be reached need not be worked out in minute detail. It is enough for the parties to get together in a closed room, leaving the din of politics aside for a moment, and agree on what is to be done regarding the state-owned enterprises, the rigid revenue base of the government, broadening of the export base and exchange rate management. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but it is enough at this point in time for agreement on a common direction. Perhaps, the parties could agree that they will not oppose privatisation plans in principle, provided these are executed with enough safeguards for workers’ rights, to take one example. They might also agree on the outlines of autonomy for the regulators, particularly the State Bank, which must be allowed to mediate between the markets and the government in curating its exchange rate regime and setting interest rates without political interference. Such a consensus is necessary if Pakistan is ever to embark on a course of deep-rooted reforms that lead to greater documentation of the economy and harness the productive potential of the country’s economy. But crafting such a consensus will take political skill, and perhaps put some limits on the divisive rhetoric that so poisons our politics these days. A little maturity and true leadership from the top will be required to make this happen.

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