Dawn Editorial 20th October 2023

Unjust bloodshed

THE events that unfolded on Sept 28 in Sindh’s Mari Jalbani village have called into question the state’s security operations. An HRCP fact-finding mission found that the “hastily executed” action resulted in the loss of innocent lives. The operation that allegedly aimed to neutralise threats ended in the deaths of four villagers and injuries to several others. The conflicting narratives that have emerged post the incident only serve to muddy the waters. On one hand, there are claims from the law-enforcement agencies that they were seeking high-profile militants; on the other, the locals and the district police assert that the endeavour was poorly conducted, and those killed were innocent civilians. Moreover, the arbitrary capture and utilisation of student Liaquat Jalbani by the security forces to guide them through the village is a gross violation of his rights and has set a disturbing precedent. The exact nature of the threat prompting the mission remains unclear.

It goes without saying that every operation must have at its core robust intelligence and thorough planning. Such incidents only serve to shatter the trust of ordinary citizens in the state. HRCP’s recommendations warrant serious consideration. A fair and transparent investigation is the need of the hour. To this end, the formation of an inquiry committee by the provincial government is a welcome step. Accountability is non-negotiable. Guilty parties, no matter their rank or affiliation, must face the consequences of their actions. In addition, the trauma inflicted on the affected families and especially on Liaquat Jalbani, must not be forgotten, and so, the need for immediate compensation and support for these victims cannot be overstated. These are not just ethical imperatives but necessary steps to begin the healing process. The government and security apparatus must introspect deeply and reform. Extrajudicial killings and violations of human rights are unacceptable stains on the fabric of a democratic nation. The people of Mari Jalbani, and indeed all Pakistanis, deserve better.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2023

Media under fire

AN almost endless stream of disinformation and propaganda has accompanied the hostilities in Gaza both in the social and mainstream media.

A prime example of this are efforts by pro-Israel voices to confuse the public about the grotesque bombing of the Al Ahli Hospital, particularly as the atrocity is believed to have been Tel Aviv’s handiwork.

That is why it is important for credible news organisations to continue their work in the conflict zone, in order to keep the public informed, and sift facts from lies.

However, in the midst of the tragedy where non-combatant deaths are in the thousands, particularly in the Gaza hellscape, journalists covering the conflict — especially those based in the besieged Strip — have paid a heavy price.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 17 mediapersons have lost their lives in the current conflict: 13 Palestinians, three Israelis and one Lebanese journalist. Most of the casualties have occurred due to the merciless Israeli aerial assault on Gaza, as Palestinian journalists have perished with their families.

As CPJ notes, “journalists are civilians doing important work … and must not be targeted by warring parties”. While mediapersons are in mortal danger while working in active conflict zones, such a high toll is unacceptable, and reflects the disdain for civilian lives, particularly by the Israelis.

Civilian buildings must be strictly off limits to armed actors, while the international community must insist on ‘safe zones’ where journalists can work freely. And if there is proof that mediapersons have been targeted deliberately — as Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was last year by the Israelis — the guilty must be held to account.

There are also disturbing reports that Tel Aviv seeks to ban Qatar-based Al Jazeera from reporting from Israel. Again, the CPJ has said in this regard that “a plurality of media voices is essential … to hold power to account” particularly during wartime.

Sadly, much of the Western media, parroting the line their governments have taken, have become cheerleaders for Israel. Therefore, in the interest of balanced coverage, it is important that outlets that make an effort to project the Palestinian point of view are allowed to work freely.

When the powerful try and drown out the victim, providing a voice to the oppressed becomes imperative for the free media.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2023

CPEC’s potential

PAKISTAN is the ‘key link’ in Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar transactional Belt and Road Initiative and, therefore, one of the few participating countries that have gained the most from Chinese investments under this global cooperation umbrella.

However, Sino-Pakistan cooperation on CPEC — BRI’s flagship project, which seeks to connect countries across continents via rail, road and maritime routes — has remained restricted to Beijing’s investments in energy and transport infrastructure projects in Pakistan over the last one decade.

Chinese firms invested over $25bn in infrastructure development in Pakistan at a time when investments from elsewhere were drying up. But no progress has been made in industry and agriculture to boost productivity and exports.

While physical infrastructure is crucial to trade development and economic growth, it is vital for Pakistan to increase productivity and exports through foreign investment and technology transfer for tackling its perpetual balance-of-payments and debt crises.

That is precisely why many maintain that Islamabad has failed to fully realise CPEC’s promise, and missed a golden opportunity to fix its economy.

China’s renewed push for BRI global cooperation at the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held this week to mark the first decade of BRI’s launch has afforded Pakistan yet another chance to expand bilateral economic ties with Beijing beyond debt-creating energy and transport schemes.

Thus, we may take heart from the multiple agreements reached between the two countries to expand CPEC’s scope, and expand bilateral economic and investment cooperation to industry, mining, agriculture, livelihood projects, science and technology, education, etc.

Simultaneously, Beijing has agreed to finance and upgrade the rail track from Peshawar to Karachi at the reduced cost of $6.7bn and to invest $1.5bn in the refinery business here.

These agreements were signed during interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar’s Beijing visit to participate in the forum where he also met President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang.

In the past, bilateral cooperation in these important areas was set back by multiple factors: irresponsible statements by PTI ministers against CPEC investment, bureaucratic impediments, painfully slow progress on Special Economic Zones for creating industrial infrastructure to facilitate the relocation of Chinese industry, poor regulatory and policy regimes, the dollar liquidity crunch and the like.

At the same time, the Covid pandemic, Beijing’s tensions with the West, and its concerns over security for Chinese nationals working in Pakistan also slowed momentum on BRI and CPEC.

That President Xi told the forum that China is moving from “sketching the outline” towards “filling in the details” shows that Beijing is reasserting its position as leader of “economic multilateralism and globalisation”.

The question is: are we ready to seize this second chance to fully realise the potential of cooperation on CPEC to develop a green, open and inclusive economy?

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2023

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