Dawn Editorial 15th August 2023

Nawaz’s return?

YET another date has emerged for the ‘return’ of PML-N supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, this time coming from his brother, Shehbaz Sharif.

Over the last year, several such deadlines and dates have been given by various PML-N members. From Rana Sanaullah to Mian Javed Latif, prominent party politicians have made claims that the elder Sharif, who has been living in London since 2019, will return to Pakistan at one point or the other.

So far, that has not happened. It appears that the PML-N leadership in Pakistan is clueless about his return, and that they give a vague timeline whenever asked about it. This shows a disconnect not only between the first- and second-tier leadership, but also between Mr Sharif and his vote bank.

Clearly, the PML-N is desperate for him to return so that lost political capital can be regained, the party galvanised and a poll campaign launched to reach out to PML-N voters. But despite these realities, Mr Sharif continues to sit tight in London for reasons best known to him.

As a politician, Mr Sharif has no excuse to stay away. For the last four years, he has lived abroad on the pretext of health issues, yet there are other reasons for his absence from the country — he is certainly able to travel to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Europe whenever the ‘need’ arises.

It is evident that Mr Sharif wants to avoid facing the law as he has been embroiled in several cases in which he faces jail time. He has been declared an absconder, is in the process of appealing convictions, and hopes to overturn his disqualification case.

It is surprising that someone who has in the past faced political persecution and seen the inside of jail cells is not willing to face reality today. As the leader of one of the largest parties in the country, Mr Sharif should quit remote-control politics and return.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2023

Out of line

HAS the state criminalised peaceful demonstrations and protests? Is even supporting and sympathising with the PTI now to be treated as a crime? This is the message, at least, that has been broadcast in recent weeks via the continuing arrests and detentions of ordinary citizens who have ‘dared’ to participate in any attempt by the PTI to mobilise post May 9. Over the Independence Day weekend, the Punjab police escalated matters considerably by launching a province-wide crackdown on PTI workers. A report in these pages stated that the action was ordered after PTI senior vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi called on party workers to celebrate Independence Day with public rallies. Responding to this ‘provocation’, the provincial police force circulated a list of 400 PTI activists, workers and leaders that were to be rounded up and put behind bars lest such ‘celebrations’ materialise. It is not up to the state to dictate, with force, how people must and must not celebrate their freedom. What does it seek to gain by antagonising citizens who are simply exercising rights promised under their contract with the state?

It is the great misfortune of the Pakistani people that they have yet to fully enjoy the hard-fought freedoms they won in 1947, thanks to our state’s proclivity for repressive colonial-era tactics whenever it has faced a challenge. Different socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and political groupings have routinely been treated as second-class citizens in different times; so much so that state coercion has gradually become normalised. However, with Pakistan now at an inflection point, it has become imperative to rethink past mistakes. In the current context, with elected representatives no longer in power, it is the caretaker set-up’s responsibility to put an immediate stop to the ongoing victimisation and ensure that no civilian be penalised for peacefully exercising their right to political expression. Meanwhile, it is hoped that our political parties have started reflecting on if they wish to condemn the country to another decade of political violence, as a young lawmaker poignantly indicated in his farewell address to parliament last week. Their silence appears to have emboldened the perpetrators. They should raise their voice in condemnation, or expect to soon find themselves on the receiving end. As history shows, our state is a fickle creature; it would be wise to be wary of it.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2023

Resurgent terrorism

AS the nation enters a period of political transition, there is a critical need to stay focused on counterterrorism measures. This is particularly true for the militancy-hit parts of KP and Balochistan, where security forces regularly continue to face off against militants.

Two incidents on Sunday in the two provinces illustrate the varied nature of the threat. In Gwadar, calamity was narrowly averted when security personnel confronted terrorists belonging to the banned Baloch Liberation Army. The ISPR says two terrorists were killed as they attacked a convoy transporting Chinese workers in the port city. Luckily, the foreigners were travelling in bulletproof vehicles.

The Chinese consulate in Karachi has called upon the state to “severely punish the perpetrators and take concrete … measures” to protect Chinese citizens and projects. In the other incident, a soldier was martyred while four TTP terrorists were killed in a gun battle in Bajaur.

The top brass is seemingly aware of the delicate situation. While addressing the Independence Day parade at Kakul, the army chief thanked the people of KP and Balochistan for “resiliently fighting … terrorism”, while he urged Afghanistan to prevent its soil from being used against Pakistan.

Yet the battle against militancy cannot be an open-ended exercise, as people living in the affected regions have had enough of violence, and are demanding the state take decisive action.

In this regard, a rally was held on Saturday under the aegis of the Bara Siasi Ittehad in Khyber district. The event, which saw heavy participation from the public, was supported by political parties from across the ideological spectrum. The main demands of the rally participants were peace in their region, and an end to violence, extortion and militancy. This is only the latest of well-attended rallies in KP that have echoed similar demands.

Whether it is TTP, IS-K or separatist militants, an effective counterterrorism strategy is needed to calm the affected regions, dislodge the terrorists and cause minimum disruptions in the lives of the local people, who have sacrificed much over the past several years and seen numerous counter-insurgency operations.

Within Pakistan there can be no safe havens for militants, their sympathisers or facilitators. Moreover, the state must continue working with the Afghan Taliban to ensure no anti-Pakistan militants find sanctuary across the western border. Efforts to address Pakistan’s concerns on this front may have continued since the Taliban took Kabul in 2021, but have yielded mixed results.

Sometimes there is talk of cooperation, at other times much acrimony. For example, the Taliban spokesman recently criticised Pakistan for being unable to address the militancy issue. Instead of trading blame, both sides should work to ensure militants do not have the space to operate, with the onus on Kabul to prevent anti-Pakistan terrorists from launching attacks.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2023

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