Dawn Editorial 15 November 2020

India’s ill intentions

PAKISTAN has taken an important step in its counterterrorism efforts with the launch of a dossier that claims to have substantive evidence of India’s active sponsoring of terrorism inside Pakistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and DG ISPR Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar unveiled details that included audio conversations between people identified as Indian intelligence agents and terrorists inside Pakistan.
Payments made by Indian agents in bank accounts for terrorist activities on Pakistani soil are also documented. The dossier details the involvement of Indian intelligence agency RAW in specific incidents of terrorism in various regions of Pakistan leading to substantial loss of precious lives. This dossier was unveiled a day after India unleashed yet another unprovoked attack across the Line of Control resulting in the martyrdom of a Pakistani soldier and five civilians including a teenage girl and a toddler. According to Pakistani officials, Indian forces used heavy-calibre weapons to fire indiscriminately on the civilian population in Azad Kashmir.
The international community should be concerned at this swiftly deteriorating situation. However, it should not be surprised. India’s belligerence and its muscular policy towards Pakistan has been on the rise since Narendra Modi became the prime minister. For years now, India has been consistently painting Pakistan as the source of instability in the region. Successive governments in New Delhi have accused Pakistan of ‘cross-border terrorism’ while whitewashing their own policies of brute repression and human rights violations in India-held Kashmir.
For various reasons, India was able to largely convince the international community that its narrative was correct while Pakistan’s response suffered from credibility issues. It is the right time now for Pakistan to reverse the narrative and make effective use of diplomacy and strategic communication to find international traction for this dossier. The idea of India as a state sponsor of terrorism may be hard for the international community to digest — fed as it appears to be on a diet of slick Indian propaganda backed by the image that the country has crafted for itself — but this is exactly the challenge that Pakistan must accept.
At the same time, Pakistan should be ready to counter any military misadventure from India. The signs emanating from New Delhi project mal-intent. Bellicose rhetoric and threatening posturing from civil and military leaders across the border have sadly become a norm. Added to this is the pressure on the BJP government after the dismal failure of its attempt to control the situation in occupied Kashmir.
India should, however, know by now that if it attempts to cross any red lines, the response is likely to be swift and hard, as was demonstrated earlier in 2019. For the sake of both countries, indeed the region itself, the international community should make India step back before it is too late.



Child sexual abuse

CHILD abuse is rampant in Pakistan, yet many news items still manage to shock readers to their core due to the sheer violence and brutality of the reported incident. On Friday, a suspect was killed in an ‘encounter’ by his co-accused, according to police, the day after he was arrested for raping a woman and her five-year-old daughter. Earlier on Wednesday, a four-year-old boy died at the Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical Centre in Karachi after he was found in a semi-conscious state the day before; there were signs of torture and possible sexual assault inflicted on him. Last month, the body of an eight-year-old boy in Balochistan’s Kalat district was found by relatives and police showing signs of rape by multiple people. The same month, another eight-year-old was found hanging from a tree in Killa Abdullah district; he had been raped and strangled to death. The month before that, the body of an eight-year-old raped and murdered boy was found in Karachi’s Federal B Area, in the shadow of another horrific rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in Old Sabzi Mandi, sparking protests across the country.
While many express shock at what appears to be an increase in the number of such heinous crimes, it is likely that people are only now beginning to report in greater frequency things that remained hidden and unspoken for many years, cloaked in shame and secrecy. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Children lack agency, and they are rarely taken seriously or heard in our society, which makes them easy targets for abuse by the monsters that move freely in our midst. Violence against children is common, and to this day, there is a lack of consensus on who is categorised as a child in Pakistan, despite its being signatory to various international charters on the rights of children. Even in Sindh, which raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 years and made underage marriages a punishable offence, there are instances of the law being ignored. In the most recent case, the Sindh High Court ordered police to arrest all suspects who oversaw the wedding of a 14-year-old girl to a 44-year-old man in Karachi, including the cleric. In a video that is being circulated on social media, another popular cleric can be seen justifying the marriage of minor girls, using religion as a pretext. What minds are these?



Moral policing

THERE appears to be no end to the government’s relentless efforts to curb freedom of expression in the sphere of arts and culture. After obsessively hounding TikTok and other popular apps for alleged ‘vulgar’ content, the government has found a new avenue through which it can block audience access to content it finds disagreeable. The Cabinet Division informed the State Bank of Pakistan recently to ensure that local banks block online payments for digital content from India immediately, with specific mention of the network which hosts the web series Churails. This request to ban access to Churails comes weeks after Pemra objected to its “bold subject matter” and asked the network to block its show for viewers in Pakistan. The Zee5 network complied with the request but it was not enough for the censor-happy moral police who, though initially reversing the ban, have now gone on to block payments to the network. Members of the film and television fraternity believe the State Bank order was made specifically to target Churails, as Indian content has long been banned on television channels.
The move to restrict this show speaks volumes for the mindset of those making decisions about what content is acceptable. As our channels continue to produce TV series with regressive storylines that depict women as lesser beings, Churails is facing a backlash for daring to push the envelope and imagine a society where women are the arbiters of justice. The fact that Churails, a truly made-in-Pakistan production that has earned critical acclaim, is now banned at every level by our authorities paints a sorry picture of the perverse lens through which regulators view content. It also sets a dangerous trend which will embolden those wielding the censorship whip to use their discretionary powers to ban more content they find unpalatable. The government must rethink its backward approach when it comes to women’s and digital rights. Banning and policing content in this day and age sends a negative message to the world about Pakistan’s democratic values.


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