Dawn Editorial 16 October 2019

Back in parliament

THE formula has been reasserted. The Islamabad High Court’s call to parliament to come to a decision regarding the appointment of two members to the Election Commission of Pakistan has underscored the guiding principle on the resolution of political questions. The ruling came on Monday, with Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah letting the government know that the route it adopted on the matter was unconstitutional. He was hearing petitions against the federal government’s move to appoint new ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan via an order by President Arif Alvi. Justice Minallah refused to entertain a request by the government to stall the case until the Supreme Court gave its judgement on the matter.
A member each from Sindh and Balochistan retired from the ECP earlier this year. The process of finding their replacements was to begin with the convening of a consultative meeting between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. The two leaders of the respective camps were supposed to send three names they agreed upon to a parliamentary committee for further action, or, failing that, three names each of their choice. But there was no consensus on a candidate. The controversy came to a head in August when the government notified the appointment of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui and Munir Ahmed Kakar as the two new ECP members. Bearing nomination from President Arif Alvi, the two men arrived at the ECP offices, only to be spurned by the chief election commissioner who termed their appointment unconstitutional. The Islamabad High Court has now ruled that the ECP is too vital an institution to stay suspended. This means that while parliament’s right has been respected, the lawmakers are in their turn expected to resolve the affair without wasting any more time. Justice Minallah reposed his faith in the “august house” in an act that will hopefully boost confidence in the abilities of the elected legislators.
This is an essential reminder for introspection in a country which is in the habit of blaming, distrusting and maligning politicians, often without cause. There is a growing tendency to take all issues pertaining to politicians in parliament as well as outside to court. In a land where controversial interventions, soft coups and overthrows have been all too common, this propensity for legal arbitration has been likened to the Pakistani habit of inviting the ‘apolitical’ security establishment to adjudicate on matters outside its domain, earning the latter an undesirable reputation. Even today, instead of containment through political engagement, preventing a political move through legal decree is spoken about, without any apparent consideration for how debilitating that can be for the political system and those who operate it, including parliament. Justice Athar Minallah is right. The trend has to be strongly discouraged.


AQIS in Karachi

ACTS of terrorism in the country’s urban centres are certainly down, especially as compared to the situation a few years ago. However, this does not mean that the threat of militancy has been vanquished and the security apparatus can rest easy.
As reported in this paper on Tuesday, according to the Sindh police’s Counter-Terrorism Department, a “splinter cell” associated with Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent is “regrouping” in Karachi. The militants, it was said, had apparently returned from Afghanistan and were planning to activate sleeper cells in the metropolis. As Tuesday’s deadly bombing in Quetta demonstrates, the militants are on the lookout for soft targets and can strike whenever they have an opportunity to do so.
It should be remembered that before the militant threat was dealt several blows through a combination of military operations (eg Zarb-i-Azb) and police action in the cities, acts of terrorism had become a frequent, unfortunate part of life in Pakistan. Mosques, markets, schools and political rallies were all attacked by extremist killers, resulting in a high number of casualties and sending a wave of fear across the nation.
Thankfully, the situation has changed for the positive, though in the recent past, several attempts have been made to sabotage the relative stability in the country, such as the Kuchlak mosque bombing in August. The key, as experience shows, is to conduct intelligence-based operations and bust terrorist groups before they can carry out acts of violence.
In this regard, the Sindh CTD has done well to raise a red flag about the presence of AQIS in Karachi; now the security agencies must step into high gear and bust the cell before it is able to carry out acts of mayhem.
Militants may be keeping quiet, but this does not mean that they have abandoned their violent ways. For example, sectarian groups have also reared their ugly head, as a number of targeted killings in Karachi have recently indicated. But with a combination of good intelligence and law enforcement, these violent actors can be countered and put out of business.
The National Action Plan remains a workable solution to uproot terrorism from Pakistan, and needs to be implemented with full force.
This country has suffered much due to years of the state ignoring the terrorist threat. Now when the situation is relatively better, the state must prevent new threats from emerging, and neutralise the remnants of old militant outfits.


The polio problem

ON the behest of the government, the Council of Islamic Ideology issued around 100 fatwas in support of polio vaccination. While some are lauding the move as a much-needed breakthrough, similar pro-polio vaccination fatwas have been declared in the past. For instance, in 2013, Maulana Samiul Haq and the Sunni Ittehad Council issued a fatwa in favour of anti-polio campaigns and condemned the targeted killings of health workers. The most recent fatwa comes a month after the Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication raised concerns about the persistence of the virus in Pakistan and Afghanistan in a meeting in Cairo. Indeed, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries battling to control the polio virus, as Nigeria is well on its way to being declared polio-free. In particular, Pakistan is struggling to control a massive spike in the number of new cases this year. At the last count, the figure stood over 70, with the vast majority of cases recorded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab.
While the major hurdle in eradicating polio in the past was religiously motivated militancy (the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban brutally gunned down polio health workers and security personnel in their war against the state, spreading the falsehood that the vaccine was a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims), the greatest challenge in more recent times has come from misinformation campaigns that are quickly disseminated through social media and create panic and paranoia among the people. While the challenges to anti-polio efforts by militancy are not over yet, the issue of vaccine refusal is arguably now more about a lack of awareness regarding health and how vaccines work. The battle against polio must be tackled on a war footing, and community leaders and local mosques must be engaged in such efforts. It is not an easy task, but one must remember that countries with even larger populations and conflict zones have been able to successfully eradicate the disease.


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