Dawn Editorial 20th September 2023

Futures on hold

IT is a sad turn of events when one is caught between choosing to fill their fuel tanks to get to work or paying the month’s power bill. Living costs in Pakistan have soared to an extent where citizens are forced daily to make such impossible choices. How is one to select one and forego the other? Yet, such sacrifices are becoming more commonplace than one might realise. With the August inflation rate clocking in at 27.4pc, the very foundations of societal progression are under threat. The streets bear witness to a populace on the brink, with protests erupting nationwide. Amid this economic maelstrom, a distressing trend has taken root: financially strapped families have begun pulling their children out of school. Some have opted to homeschool the younger ones while the older siblings appear in exams privately. Others have turned to the more economical option: madressahs. It is a choice born not out of preference but out of a despondent resignation to the economic realities.

This apparent solution, however, conceals a perilous trajectory for the future of our children. Focusing primarily on imparting religious education, madressahs in Pakistan are not inherently designed to provide a well-rounded experience that equips children with the necessary skills to venture out into the modern world. While this is not a blanket assertion on all seminaries, there is the ever-present danger of children falling prey to extremist ideologies, to the promotion of militancy and hatred. The need of the hour is stringent oversight by the government on the operations and curriculum of these institutions in tandem with efforts to reconsider economic policies that have brought families at this juncture. The government must heed the signs of these pressing times, shaping policies that harmonise economic stability with educational accessibility. No child in Pakistan must be robbed of the opportunity for a broad-based education on the count of economic hardship.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2023

ECP’s preparations

THE needle has barely moved. According to news reports, the Election Commission has sought the completion of the preliminary delimitation of constituencies by the end of this month — Sept 26, to be precise — so that the exercise can be completed sooner than originally anticipated.

The process was initially scheduled to be completed by Oct 7, as announced by the ECP, following the notification of the digital census in August.

But while it would appear on paper that the ECP is making an effort to expedite the elections exercise, the revision of the delimitation timeline still does not mean elections will be held according to the constitutional schedule.

In fact, even under the revised schedule, elections are unlikely to be held any time before the second half of January unless, of course, some power intervenes and binds the ECP to the non-negotiable condition set by the Constitution — elections within 90 days.

Last week, the Supreme Court returned a petition filed by the PTI seeking an order to force the ECP to adhere to the constitutional scheme, with the objection that it had not specified which question of public importance was being raised that pertained to fundamental rights.

The apex court, therefore, did not find sufficient grounds to invoke jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, recommending that the matter be taken up before an ‘appropriate forum’ instead.

It may be recalled that the president, too, recently asked the ECP to seek guidance from the superior judiciary on when elections ought to be held after abdicating his own constitutional authority to set a date for a general election for the National Assembly, which was dissolved by his hand.

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will take up the matter after the objections it has raised on the PTI’s petition. In contrast to his predecessors, the new chief justice seems to hold a comparatively restrictive view regarding the apex court’s jurisdiction under Article 184(3).

It is deeply regrettable that the ECP remains on course to committing another major violation of the Constitution without any check. The question of whether or not elections can exceed the 90-day deadline for a prematurely dissolved assembly has been adjudicated this year by both the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court.

It defies understanding how the country’s administrative system can continue to operate in complete denial of their judgements and expect to once again get away with committing a grave violation of the country’s law.

The entire edifice of this country’s political system rests on its people’s right to choose their representatives to govern its matters. How long will this right be held hostage to the whims of those who wish, instead, to impose their own will on 240m souls?

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2023

Sikh activist’s murder

A SPAT between Canada and India over the murder of a pro-freedom Sikh activist in a Vancouver suburb has turned ugly, with both states expelling diplomats and exchanging accusatory rhetoric.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and prominent advocate for Khalistan, was killed outside a gurdwara he headed in June.

In a startling disclosure, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his country’s parliament the authorities were “pursuing credible allegations” that Indian “agents” were linked to the murder. In a related move, Ottawa expelled a diplomat described as India’s top intelligence agent in the country.

Meanwhile, New Delhi on Tuesday asked a Canadian diplomat to leave the country apparently due to involvement in “anti-India activities”, while an Indian foreign ministry spokesman described Mr Trudeau’s claims as “absurd”.

Bilateral ties had steadily been declining over the Khalistan issue, as Canada hosts a large Sikh diaspora, and many Canadian Sikhs support the movement for a separate homeland.

Due to these facts, Mr Trudeau had received a somewhat frosty reception during the G20 moot in New Delhi earlier this month, compared to the warm welcome other foreign leaders received. With public allegations, things have come to a head.

Assassinations by states on foreign soil of elements they consider undesirable is part and parcel of international espionage. But perhaps Israel takes the cake where subterfuge is concerned.

Tel Aviv’s agents have for decades been taking out targets across the globe. Most of the victims have been Palestinian militants and activists, while lately members of Hezbollah and those linked to Iran’s nuclear programme and security institutions have topped the list.

Considering the cosy relationship between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, perhaps the Indians have taken a page out of Mossad’s handbook in organising the hit on an individual they considered a ‘terrorist’. Other states, too, indulge in such activities.

However, despite India’s posturing, this issue is unlikely to fizzle out, as the Canadian PM would not have made such a major announcement without strong proof.

Along with assuring a large ethno-religious community that their safety matters, Canada will also pursue this murder to protect its reputation as a state where the rule of law is respected, as Mr Trudeau noted.

States may indulge in such underhanded behaviour, but the blowback can be embarrassing if things go awry, as the Indian government is discovering.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2023

September 28, 2023

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