Dawn Editorial 15 January 2021

Trump’s impeachment

IN a dramatic development, the United States House of Representatives has impeached outgoing President Donald Trump and sent the impeachment resolution to the Senate to convict him. Given the numbers in the Senate and the little time left before Mr Trump bows out of the White House, the impeachment move may well remain symbolic in nature. Even then, the symbolism itself is a potent one. As are the words.
The impeachment resolution says: “President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperilled a coequal branch of government. He thereby betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi too did not hold back as she opened the debate: “We know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation.”
It is clear that President Trump’s actions have elicited alarm and criticism within Republican ranks too. This may lead some Republicans to vote against him in the Senate. While Mr Trump retains a large and committed base of supporters, many among the Republican party rank and file may have realised, perhaps too late, that their blind support may have contributed to his reckless actions. Few could have imagined that one day the president of the US would be responsible for an insurrection at the Capitol — the temple of American democracy — and five people would lose their lives. Yet this is what the outgoing president has reduced America to — a democracy threatened from within and ridiculed from abroad.
There is a lesson for the American voter — in fact, for voters everywhere — about the repercussions of electing a person without considering the consequences of their choice. The US boasts a democratic system built on the concept of checks and balances where power is shared among institutions as well as between Washington and the states. If in such a structured system one person can use the powers bestowed upon him through his office to run amok, weaker democracies are much more susceptible to manipulation and abuse of power.
Voters may also need to keep in mind that a democratic mandate is not always a free pass. Leaders elected to office must always be kept under constitutional check otherwise they can use the weight of their office — and of their mandate — to force through policies that may be detrimental to a society’s health. The US media has played a critical role these last four years to keep Mr Trump under pressure by speaking truth to power. It has called out the president for his excesses despite pressures. Therein lies another lesson for us all.



Economic growth

MOODY’S Investors Service expects Pakistan’s economy to grow by a modest 1.5pc in FY2021, much higher than the World Bank’s projection of 0.5pc but lower than the government’s target of 2.1pc and the State Bank’s estimates of 1.5pc to 2.5pc. Unlike the World Bank that recently predicted the country’s growth would remain lacklustre even over the next two fiscal years at just 1.3pc, the research arm of Moody’s Credit Rating Agency sees the economy expanding to 4.4pc in FY2022. The wide divergence in growth projections for the present year is not surprising as these are based mainly on different sets of data and policies, short- to medium-term trends, global economic drifts and other variables. Yet a reading of the texts accompanying the differing forecasts underlines the challenge to the subdued recovery from the Covid-19 shock: resurgence of the virus. Even though short-term macroeconomic trends are showing improvements over the last year when the economy contracted by 0.4pc for the first time in 68 years, Moody’s expects economic activities to remain below pre-Covid-19 levels for some time and vulnerable to successive waves of infection.
The agency says the perceived risks to Pakistan’s economy are lower than for similarly rated peers, as it is a relatively closed economy with lower dependence on exports and private capital flows, besides limited trade and supply chain linkages which reduce its exposure to weaker global demand. But this ‘advantage’ will also prove to be a major snag even after the world recovers from the pandemic. The slow economic revival may hurt government finances, as is reflected by the FBR missing its target for the first half of FY2021, with Moody’s anticipating the budget deficit at 8pc of GDP compared to the target of 7pc. The agency acknowledges that different initiatives and fiscal stimulus packages given by the government and the central bank helped put the macroeconomy back on the growth track but did not fully offset the pandemic’s impact on the economy. That means private credit growth will reach only a modest 5pc to 7pc, with banks facing the prospect of rising defaults from companies and households because of economic hardship amid the pandemic when repayment of rescheduled loans becomes due in the next few months. In other words, it isn’t time for the government to declare victory; rather, it is time to tweak policies and undertake structural reforms to help the economy get back on its feet on a sustainable basis.



Madressah students

GETTING students of madressahs involved in politics is a bad idea, primarily because seminarians should be concentrating on their studies, while their involvement in politics is bound to radicalise the political discourse. This is why the prime minister’s orders to Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid to prevent students of madressahs from joining the PDM’s scheduled march on Islamabad is a good idea. However, it is also true that the move smacks of hypocrisy as when Imran Khan — then a fiery member of the opposition — was besieging the federal capital in 2014, he himself had a bit of help from religious elements. It should be remembered that supporters of cleric-politician Tahirul Qadri, in their thousands, had staged an ‘Inquilab’ march and dharna, coinciding with the PTI’s protest campaign in Islamabad. Many of Mr Qadri’s supporters were students of madressahs and schools affiliated with the cleric’s religious and political organisations, though at that time Mr Khan did not seem to mind the inclusion of seminary students in politics. Where the current PDM protests are concerned, the head of the Deobandi waqf that administers that school of thought’s seminaries has denied students will participate in political activities of the JUI-F, one of the central component parties of the anti-government alliance and the leading Deobandi political force in the country.
It should be noted that in the Pakistani context, where religion and politics are almost inseparable, it would be next to impossible to implement any restriction on seminarians participating in political activities. For example, religious parties — such as the JUI-F, Jamaat-i-Islami and more recently Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan — command tremendous street power, and other ‘secular’ political forces are at times also keen to tap into this reserve of ready recruits for political events. Ideally, as stated above, madressah students should focus on their education, while political elements should not try and exploit this segment of society to achieve their goals. This applies to parties staging protests now, as well as those who have leveraged these resources in the past.

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