Dawn Editorial 20 December 2019

Descent into medievalism

IF the sentence of capital punishment in Tuesday’s short order came as a jolt, the detailed verdict that held former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf guilty of treason was nothing short of a judicial bombshell.
The tone of the verdict that was released yesterday was horrifying in places — and indicated a troubling descent into medievalism. Have we really become so brutalised as a society that we can order the corpse of a convict who dies before he is executed to be dragged to a public square and strung up for three days?
Two of the three judges on the special court bench had found Mr Musharraf guilty and sentenced him to death — a punishment that this paper deplores under any circumstances. And it was one of them, Justice Waqar Seth, who spelt out the graphic punishment.
It is to be hoped that this minority view does not obscure the underlying significance of the judgement — ie it is for the first time in this country that a former army chief has been found guilty of high treason. Critically, the 2-1 verdict had raised some other serious constitutional questions, including on the role of those who had aided Mr Musharraf in his Nov 3, 2007, misadventure. One hopes that the tone of the judgement will not obscure these relevant aspects.
Taking their cue from a meeting between the prime minister and the incumbent army chief, both the ISPR and the government’s ministers have weighed in on the matter. The government has decided to approach the Supreme Judicial Council for the removal of Justice Seth on the grounds that he is ‘unfit’ to be a judge, and is to separately file an appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court. That is its right.
On his part, rising to the defence of his institution, a visibly emotional DG ISPR criticised the verdict’s language, saying that it went against ‘humanity and religion’, a point that many would have endorsed.
In this troubling atmosphere, it is time for all institutions to take a step back in order to avoid a head-on collision. The government will be pursuing the matter legally, which is the correct thing to do. The prime minister’s advice of restraint is timely and must be followed, instead of government ministers and institutions targeting the judiciary that safeguards the Constitution.
The judgement, notwithstanding its disturbing language in places, forms the basis for a frank and robust debate on the direction in which Pakistani democracy is headed and on whether there is a need for course correction.
Equally important is a discussion on Pakistani society and how it can avoid the minefields of the tribal, anachronistic mores that lie in its path to progress. Without introspection, the country will continue to slide towards anarchy, a situation that anti-state elements will be only to keen to exploit.



Mind the gap

THE founder of this nation once said: “No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” Seventy-two years later, Pakistan still has a long way to go when it comes to ensuring equal rights and opportunities for half its population. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, the country is one of the most inequitable societies for women to live in. Ranking 151 out of 153 countries, just above war-torn Yemen and Iraq, the country also had the lowest ranking in the entire South Asian region. In comparison, Bangladesh performed significantly better at 50; Nepal stood at 101; followed by Sri Lanka at 102; and neighbouring India at 112. While many of the countries listed improved with time when it came to ensuring women’s equal status — the authors of the report link this welcome progress to the higher participation of women in politics — Pakistan did not. In 2006, it was placed at 112 out of 115 countries. And last year, it was ranked 148 out of 149 countries.
To measure inequality, the survey examines the difference between men and women in their participation and access to health, education, the economy and politics. When it comes to economic participation, Pakistan is all the way down at 150. For health and survival indicators, it is just as poor at 149; for education, the country is placed at 143; and finally, when it comes to political empowerment, Pakistan performs slightly better at 93. Some of the findings are a bit surprising, given Pakistani women’s role in the running of a largely agrarian economy, but this may be due to the informal status of the sector and the fact that a lot of women’s labour goes unrecognised. What cuts through and links all these disparate fields is the perpetuation of a patriarchal culture and the lower status of women in society. It seems that despite more awareness and mobilisation for women’s rights — and despite the passage of many progressive laws, thanks to the efforts of women parliamentarians over the years — the large majority of women do not see the change in their lives. As rightfully noted in the report, and by the nation’s founder all those years ago, the equal status of women is inseparable from a country’s economic and social progress.



Harmful substances

THE Sindh Assembly has finally taken the much-awaited step of making the sale, purchase and manufacture of gutka and mainpuri illegal and punishable by law. The move is, indeed, laudable. However, it remains to be seen whether the government is able to enforce the new law in letter and spirit, saving millions of people from the clutches of dangerous diseases such as mouth cancer. Under the Sindh Prohibition of Preparation, Manufacturing, Storage, Sale and Use of Gutka and Mainpuri Bill, 2019, all aspects — from the import, export and manufacturing to the buying and selling of gutka and mainpuri — have been made punishable by law. Though the provincial government has in the past imposed temporary bans on the sale and purchase of this noxious substance (the Sindh High Court in August this year had also imposed a ban on its sale and manufacture), it is for the first time that this effort is being codified into a comprehensive law. Under the bill, even owning and operating a space or machinery for the processing of gutka and mainpuri are prohibited. All offences under this bill are cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs200,000. Only the purchase of gutka and mainpuri has been made a non-cognisable, bailable and compoundable offence, with punishment of up to one month’s imprisonment, and Rs5,000 payable as fine.
One remarkable feature of the new bill are the powers awarded to police officers (starting from the rank of sub-inspectors) for searching a wide range of premises — places accessible to the public such as shops and vehicles — and detaining those in possession of these toxic substances. However, the bill also provides a safeguard against the misuse of these powers by law-enforcement officers by according punishment of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to Rs300,000 for “vexatious entry, search, seizure or arrest”. The passage of this law is only the first step in the attempt to eliminate such harmful substances; the real test lies in the government’s own resolve.





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