Dawn Editorial 18 November 2020

Yet more space

MANY a reactionary outfit has been allowed to thrive on Pakistani soil. Each one of them has ill served the global image of this county. Indeed, their incendiary rhetoric and violent actions have reinforced the enemy’s narrative and weakened our principled positions on regional human rights issues. And in its efforts to ‘manage’ the violence these ultra right-wing outfits wreak, the government cedes more and more space to them — a vicious cycle that appears to have no end in sight.
The latest instance of this myopic approach was played out at the Faizabad interchange between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The site was occupied by a large number of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan activists protesting against the blasphemous caricatures by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Despite clashes with the police, they refused to end their sit-in until the government met their demands.
These included: boycotting French products, expelling the French ambassador, not appointing an ambassador to France and releasing all arrested TLP activists. On Monday night, the TLP announced that the government had agreed to its demands. While no official confirmation has yet been forthcoming, the interior ministry apparently ordered the immediate release of the detained activists. Once again it seems the ultra-right has browbeaten the Pakistani state into capitulation.
The sense of déjà-vu is unmistakable, and not only because such craven surrender has been par for the course for some time in this country. It was in November 2017 at the Faizabad interchange, during the PML-N government’s tenure, that the TLP first made its presence felt when its activists forcibly occupied the site for over 20 days to demand the ouster of the law minister on entirely specious grounds.
A police operation went awry, forcing the resignation of the minister and a humiliating climbdown by the government. The end came with a questionable army-brokered agreement — and cash being distributed among the protesters by a senior military official. In the elections that followed next year, the TLP — until recently a little-known outfit whose raison d’être had been the lionisation of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer — played spoiler and dented the PML-N vote bank in several constituencies. It has since demonstrated its destructive street power on several other occasions, most notably on the announcement of Asiya Bibi’s acquittal by the Supreme Court.
The group tasted blood when it first clashed with the authorities in 2017, and like other such entities, it will continue to use its bully pulpit to pressure governments into wholly untenable compromises that an economically weak country cannot afford. Blocking coverage of the protests on television or suspending mobile phone services, as the PTI government has done this time, are redundant and short-term tactics. Matters have come to a point where it is imperative to stop mollycoddling groups of TLP’s ilk, let alone using them for dubious political objectives. They can only lead Pakistan to ruin.



PM’s Covid concerns

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan in his address to the nation on Monday made some significant remarks about the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the country. Mr Khan announced restrictions on all public gatherings, which effectively limits political rallies by his own party as well as those of the opposition. This is a welcome decision. Covid-19 cases are spreading at an alarming rate, with the national positivity rate inching towards 7pc — a frightening statistic which in several other countries has triggered strict lockdowns. There is no doubt that the limiting of public gatherings will prevent the spread of the virus. However, given the PTI’s acrimonious relationship with the opposition parties, and the generally toxic political environment, Mr Khan’s decision in this regard may be seen by opponents as a stealth attack on their democratic right to assembly. The government and the opposition have been at loggerheads from day one, and on many occasions their rivalry has gone far beyond the level of political competition considered necessary for a democratic system to function robustly. Both sides, including Mr Khan himself, have indulged in petty politics and resorted to deeply personal, misogynistic and unsavoury attacks on their opponents. In such an environment, the decision to restrict political gatherings may come across as a ruse. Nevertheless, it must be considered seriously by opposition parties given the threat the virus poses to members of the public, and Mr Khan or one of his aides should engage with their opponents directly to allay suspicions. In fact, Mr Khan’s decision to allow outdoor wedding ceremonies of up to 300 must be challenged, as it creates a false sense of security that these gatherings are somehow safe, even when science indicates otherwise.
It is a pity that the government and its opponents have been unable to work together on any important issue. Yet, the formation of the NCOC and the effective coordination between members of the federal government and provincial ministers is a small silver lining in this cloud of gloom. It is this spirit of rising above the situation and tackling a national challenge that is required during a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The prime minister must seriously reflect on the value of such coordination and rethink his government’s combative approach; he himself has noted that Pakistan may be hurtling towards a point where the pandemic could hit harder than it did during the first peak in June.



FDI challenge

DESPITE a 10-month-high foreign direct investment of $317.4m in the previous month, net FDI flows into the country shrank by 14.5pc to $587.5m in the first four months of the ongoing fiscal from a year ago. That is not all. A major chunk of the direct investment flows made its way from China to coal and other power projects being constructed as part of the CPEC initiative following the resumption of work on schemes during the period when a decline in Covid-19 infections was being witnessed. Besides CPEC projects, telecommunication, financial services and oil and gas were the other major recipients of FDI during these months, according to recent data published by the State Bank of Pakistan.
Owing to a number of reasons, Pakistan has never been a favoured destination of foreign investors. Barring the record-high FDI flows of $5.6bn and $5.4bn in 2007 and 2008, foreign investment has remained less than 1pc of the size of the economy although other economies comparable to Pakistan have attracted FDI close to 3pc of their GDP. It must be noted that the FDI flows into the country in recent years have originated mostly from China in transport, power and other infrastructure projects undertaken under the CPEC initiative. Chinese investment also has slowed down significantly since the completion of the ‘early harvest’ schemes related to CPEC. Chances of FDI flowing into new non-CPEC projects in the near to medium term appear to be very slim at the moment. The resumption of work on power projects, dams and railway infrastructure under CPEC may increase Chinese flows modestly though. Facing a chronic balance-of-payments problem with negative Net International Reserves, Pakistan needs to urgently woo non-debt-creating foreign investment, especially in export-oriented industries, to increase its overseas shipments and replace foreign debt to pay its import bill. With global FDI flows plummeting in the wake of the Covid-19 health crisis, the government must invest heavily in modern industrial and agricultural infrastructure for that to happen.


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