Dawn Editorial 1st April 2024

Family sins

INCEST is not a mere violation. Perpetrated and covered up by family for ‘family honour’, it is a horrific crime that mauls a young life and turns homes into a place of abuse, sometimes leading to teen suicides. Pakistan, tragically, is no stranger to the sickness: the tormented lives of minors have been uncovered frequently. In 2021, Kasur police arrested a man for raping his daughter; she stated that she complained to relatives but they stayed silent. Early last year, Pakistanis breathed fire at a university lecturer who had set an exam paper that included a question about incest. The same year, a 14-year-old girl in Lahore killed her father for raping her multiple times for months. Last week, the body of a girl in Toba Tek Singh was exhumed for autopsy due to suspicions of incest by her brother and father; she was allegedly pregnant. A gruesome video of her murder — featuring the accused — went viral on social media amid public outrage.

These are hidden victims forced to wear a shroud of silence, while their violators are either around them or have easy access to them. So much so, that, reportedly 60pc to 70pc of such incidents go unreported, because the child cannot admit to incestuous abuse. On disclosure, adults advise secrecy. According to a WAR report in 2021, the most frequently reported abuse cases are of incest; almost 60pc minors subjected to sexual abuse are victims of incest in Pakistan. The path to justice requires a drastic overhaul, with a sensitised legal fraternity and thana settings, so that advocates are not shy of taking up incest cases and families are not asked to drop charges. Moreover, increased state support is needed for mothers to report sick-minded family members. In this criminal set-up, an abuser’s actions are normalised for the child as is silence for the mother. The stigma must be erased, with fewer procedural and societal hurdles.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

Biden’s letter

IT seems as though the US government finally wants to give Islamabad a chance. On Friday, US President Joe Biden wrote to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to communicate that Washington continues to stand with Pakistan “to tackle the most pressing global and regional challenges of our time”. Though quite a few observers noted that the letter itself seemed rather anodyne, others saw it as a major breakthrough considering that the American presidency, ever since it passed from Donald Trump, had avoided engaging directly with Pakistan’s civilian leadership thus far. A good relationship with Washington has been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy for decades now, so the American president’s refusal to talk to former prime minister Imran Khan had set off alarm bells in diplomatic circles. Things seemed to have soured considerably after the US forces’ messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Pakistani government’s decision to maintain a non-aligned stance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict didn’t help. The ‘ciphergate’ saga, involving a senior State Department official, Donald Lu, only complicated matters. However, the White House has now signalled that it may be ready to move on.

But the contents of the letter also make it clear that Islamabad should not get its hopes up. The letter avoids talking about any of the most pressing crises being faced by Pakistan, which makes it evident that Washington may no longer be as willing to get involved with Pakistan as it once was. It says that it is interested in helping out with climate change and human rights-related issues, education and health, and contributing to Pakistan’s economic growth, but where problems like economic aid, security and political instability are concerned, it seems Islamabad will be on its own for now. Importantly, Mr Biden has avoided congratulating Prime Minister Sharif on his election or acknowledging the political turmoil that followed February’s general election, which suggests that Washington wants to maintain a safe distance. There is also the fact that this letter may be too little, too late. Mr Biden may not be around for too long: the US presidential election is slated to be held on Nov 5, 2024, and his main rival, Donald Trump, seems well-poised for a comeback. Whatever the case may be, it appears that Pakistan has little choice but to take baby steps forward.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

Government support?

FINANCE MINISTER Muhammad Aurangzeb wants to conclude a larger, medium-term deal with the IMF before the current fiscal year is out. He is also hopeful of getting to the finish line in time. Speaking to reporters at the PSX on Friday, he expressed hopes of reaching a staff-level agreement for the new programme with the Fund by end FY24.

According to him, the lender has been “very receptive” to Pakistan’s request for a larger programme in recent communications. While there was no final decision yet, he said, “it is our desire that by the time we wrap up this fiscal year an [agreement] is reached”. He has repeatedly argued that Pakistan requires IMF discipline for at least the next three years to “execute” the long-delayed structural changes in the economy.

Apparently, the finance minister has also earned the goodwill of the lender, and the upcoming talks on the new programme on the margins of the spring meetings of the Bretton Woods institutions will, hopefully, pave the way for early finalisation of the new loan programme.

At a time when the minister needs the government’s full backing to pull off the crucial deal and implement tough economic reforms over the next several years, it seems that some circles are trying to undermine his role in the cabinet. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s decision to name Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar to the all-important Council of Common Interests and keep Mr Aurangzeb out of it looks like an attempt to contain his role in decision-making.

Sadly, this was not the only occasion, since the formation of the new government a month ago, that he has been sidelined. Some days ago, Mr Sharif, in a break from tradition, decided to chair the ECC, the top policymaking forum. It was only after widespread criticism that he yielded the position to the finance minister. Likewise, the latter’s role in the privatisation process was also diminished when Mr Dar was appointed head of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation.

In the CCI’s case, what exactly is the foreign minister expected to contribute to the council’s deliberations? On the other hand, the presence of the finance minister in the CCI — the top constitutional forum mandated to discuss and decide on matters and disputes related to the federation and the provinces — is of utmost importance at this moment because the implementation of several IMF programme goals and policy reforms hinge on the active involvement of the federating units.

There is no better forum than the CCI to enlist the buy-in of the provinces on the IMF programme and reforms. It can only be hoped that sense will prevail and the prime minister will replace Mr Dar with his finance minister in the CCI in the larger interest of the country.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

April 24, 2024

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