Dawn Editorial 12th May 2024

Hope after defeat

ON Saturday, having fallen behind Japan in the first quarter of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final, Pakistan showed powers of recovery to take the lead. But Japan levelled matters and then Pakistan could not hold their nerve in the penalty shootout, losing 4-1 after the match had ended 2-2 in regulation time. Head coach Roeltant Oltmans had said on the eve of the match that it would be a good experience for his youthful side if the final went to a shootout. The hope is that these young men, who have rekindled hopes of hockey’s revival in Pakistan, will learn from this and return stronger. Pakistan had reached the final of the Azlan Shah Cup for the first time in 13 years after being unbeaten in the round-robin stage. On their way, Pakistan held New Zealand to a draw. Overall, the team’s performance can be a starting point to build upon.

Ahead of the final, Oltmans had spoken about the potential of this current lot, whilst also slamming critics in a pointed message to the country’s former Olympians, who have been resentful of a foreign coach being at the helm of the national team. The Dutchman has shown he deserves a longer, more consistent run, instead of being called up tournament after tournament. For that, matters pertaining to the running of the Pakistan Hockey Federation must be settled. The PHF had split into two factions ahead of the Azlan Shah Cup. The government’s intervention resolved the dispute at least until the end of the tournament but a final decision is yet to be reached. Pakistan have failed to qualify for the last three Olympics and that woeful run will continue if matters are not resolved. Oltmans and his charges have provided hope, and with the better running of PHF, there is an opportunity for Pakistan to return to its former standing in world hockey. It should not be missed.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2024

A moral victory

AS the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted on Friday in favour of granting Palestine greater rights at the multilateral body, and eventually paving the way for Palestine’s admission to the UN, thousands of miles away, in the killing fields of Gaza, the people of Palestine continued to face the brutality of the Israeli war machine. Only nine states voted against granting Palestine greater rights, amongst them the US. America’s ambassador to the UN said the vote against the resolution should “not reflect its opposition to Palestinian statehood”. This is doublespeak at its finest. Israel’s other staunch Western allies Germany and the UK abstained, while France voted in favour of the resolution along with 142 other members of the UN. The message from the global majority is clear: Palestine must join the comity of nations and take its rightful place at the UN. However, the Security Council’s recommendation is essential for full UN membership. Here, the US can be expected to torpedo the move, as it has in the past.

However, while Palestine may have scored a moral victory in the hallowed halls of the UN, in the hellscape that Gaza has been turned into, its people have no protection from Israel’s campaign of genocidal violence. Despite global calls for Tel Aviv to refrain from attacking Rafah, Israel has refused to listen, and hostilities continue in Gaza’s southernmost area. Even a feeble warning from the US to cut off weapons bound for Tel Aviv has failed to dampen Israel’s lust for Palestinian blood. Despatches from those in Gaza are heart-breaking. A Unicef official reports witnessing a mass exodus, with “people … exhausted, terrified”. He particularly points to the challenges faced by pregnant women and children, many of whom have lost limbs and suffered “horrific burns”. Moreover, famine has spread in Gaza, while Israel has blocked all aid for the last few days. In fact, along with Tel Aviv’s military machine, many civilians in the Zionist state have displayed blood-curdling cruelty towards the Palestinians, with protesters blocking aid shipments to Gaza. Many Israelis, as a society, want to treat Palestinians as untermensch, not worthy of human dignity, just as their forefathers were treated by Nazi Germany. And thanks to Israel’s powerful foreign patrons, they are succeeding, as Gaza’s hungry, bloodied and terrorised people cry out for an end to the nightmare.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2024

A turbulent 2023

PAKISTAN faced a tumultuous year in 2023 marked by severe economic distress and a sharp erosion of civil liberties. As documented in the HRCP’s annual report, the year was nothing short of a human rights crisis on multiple fronts.

Economic hardship was pervasive, with back-breaking inflation — nearly 40pc — and low growth hitting the common citizen the hardest. Protests were widespread, ranging from government employees striking against delayed salaries and pension issues to political demonstrations demanding timely elections. The state responded with indifference and sometimes outright violence, underlining its disregard for the people’s constitutional rights.

The political arena was no less strained: the year saw unprecedented violence following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan; subsequent PTI-led riots were met with harsh government crackdowns. This included mass arrests and the controversial use of military courts for civilian trials. Political dissent was stifled and freedom of speech curtailed with internet shutdowns and media gags on reporting of certain political leaders.

Sadly, the government’s management of the turmoil involved significant overreach, impacting judicial independence and skewing the electoral landscape. The swift passage of laws granting sweeping powers to intelligence agencies and restricting media freedoms points to the government’s alarming propensity to consolidate power at the cost of transparency and accountability.

Human rights violations were not limited to political suppression. The report highlights severe abuses such as enforced disappearances, alleged extrajudicial killings and custodial torture by state agencies. The societal impact of these policies and actions has been devastating. Moreover, marginalised communities, including women, children, religious minorities, and transgender persons, faced increased violence and discrimination.

Notable too was the harsh crackdown on peaceful assemblies like the Baloch Yakjehti Council’s protests. On the international front, despite engaging with global human rights mechanisms, Pakistan’s selective adherence to recommendations concerning enforced disappearances and the use of the death penalty reflected a reluctance to fully align with international human rights standards.

Rulers would do well to remember that adhering to those standards will help maintain Pakistan’s desperately needed GSP-Plus status and be a more inviting place for foreign investment.

As the year proceeds, it is imperative for the state to reconsider its approach to human rights. The government must ensure the independence of the judiciary, respect for democratic processes, and protection for all citizens against the abuse of power. Laws that infringe on freedom of expression and assembly should be reviewed and reformed.

Additionally, there should be a concerted effort to address the economic inequalities that underpin much of the social unrest. For a stable and prosperous Pakistan, human rights must be more than an ideal; they must be an integral part of governance and everyday life.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2024

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