Dawn Editorial 21st December 2023

Red Sea force

IN a fresh sign that the massacre in Gaza is fuelling tension elsewhere in the region, the US has announced the formation of a naval task force to stop attacks from the Yemeni Houthis targeting Israeli ships, or vessels coming from or going to the Jewish state. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the launch of this scheme — Operation Prosperity Guardian — in Bahrain, one of the members of the collective, on Tuesday. Other members include Nato countries such as the UK and France, as well as states not known for their naval prowess, such as the Seychelles. Media reports say more countries have signed up, but have requested to keep their participation quiet. On their part, the Houthis, also known as Ansarallah, say they are only targeting Israeli ships, or those vessels helping Tel Aviv, and that the attacks will stop once the butchery in Gaza is brought to a halt.

It seems that Washington is building another coalition of the willing here. While the move has ostensibly been made to protect shipping in one of the world’s most important marine trade corridors, there is also a geopolitical subtext, as the Houthis are allied with America’s arch-rival Iran, while the US has been helping the Saudis fight the Yemeni insurgents since at least 2015. Indeed, it is important to protect freedom of navigation on the high seas. But what is more important is to stop Israel’s genocidal violence against the Palestinian people. If the US is serious about protecting marine trade in the Red Sea region, it needs to support calls for a complete ceasefire in Gaza, and the provision of unrestricted humanitarian aid to Palestine’s battered Strip. Its gunboat diplomacy in the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden has high chances of backfiring. A misstep in these volatile waterways may be the spark that ignites a wider conflagration in the entire region.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2023

Cricket audio leak

OF late, Pakistan Cricket Board chief Zaka Ashraf has been dogged by controversy. Not too long after Mr Ashraf shared a screenshot of a conversation between Babar Azam and a PCB official, which was aired on television, a 135-second audio — purportedly featuring Mr Ashraf’s voice — has been doing the rounds on social media. So far, the PCB has neither denied nor admitted to the leak. And while it indicates the tension between Mr Ashraf and Babar, the former all-format captain of the national team, its timing is questionable. The audio was leaked after the team lost in the opening Test against Australia, its first game under Shan Masood’s leadership. Shan was appointed Test captain after Babar resigned, following Pakistan’s exit from the ODI World Cup.

The audio leak shines a light on how the PCB chief apparently forced Babar out. In that private conversation between Mr Ashraf and members of his family, Mr Ashraf says he had an idea that Babar would not stay on as Test captain if he was not given the same role in the white-ball teams. That is why, he says, he made that offer and already had a backup in mind once Babar would announce he was stepping down as skipper from all formats. It all adds up, considering the events on the day when Babar met Zaka after Pakistan returned from the World Cup in India. Barely 20 minutes after Babar announced his decision to quit, the PCB announced Shan and Shaheen Shah Afridi as Test and T20 skippers. In the audio, Mr Ashraf also mentions that Babar had cultivated a culture of favouritism, with his close friends as part of the squad. There is also discussion on the fact that most players in the current squad are clients of Saya Corporation, an agency run by Talha Rehmani. However, Mr Ashraf seemed to have forgotten that Shaheen is also a client of the same agency, as well as Babar’s close friend. What has emerged, however, could have a profound impact on Pakistan cricket. Evidently, Mr Ashraf holds a grudge against Babar and Saya Corporation. His attempts to regularise player agents — it is being mooted that an agent can have only two players of the national team on his roster — could turn the players against him, if his actions and words have not already done so.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2023

Multiple candidacies

IN light of the recent consultative meeting organised by Pildat and UNDP, it is high time Pakistan’s political landscape embraced a much-needed reform: limiting the number of seats an election candidate can contest.

The practice, while not new, has recently sparked debate, especially following PTI chief Imran Khan’s decision to contest from eight constituencies in last year’s by-elections. We regret that a private bill introduced last year by a Jamaat-i-Islami MNA, aimed at restricting candidates to no more than two seats, was not taken seriously.

The lack of progress on this front perpetuates an unfair electoral advantage and a financial burden on the nation. Globally, democratic nations have addressed this issue with pragmatic solutions. India, for example, permits a maximum of two simultaneous candidacies, while Bangladesh allows three.

Meanwhile, the UK has completely banned the practice of contesting more than one seat. These measures not only ensure financial prudence but also uphold the fairness of the electoral process.

In Pakistan, the financial implications of this practice are significant. The ECP estimates a cost of Rs20.7m associated with conducting by-elections in constituencies vacated by winning candidates. These expenses, borne by taxpayers, are hard to justify, especially in a country facing economic challenges.

Furthermore, the ability to contest from multiple constituencies creates an inherent imbalance in the poll competition. It favours those with ample resources, often sidelining capable candidates with limited financial means. This disparity goes against the very essence of a democratic system, which should ideally ensure equal opportunities for all aspirants, irrespective of their economic status. The matter also has a direct impact on voter sentiment.

When elected representatives vacate seats to choose another, it can lead to a sense of disenfranchisement among the electorate. This practice not only necessitates costly by-elections but also weakens voters’ trust in the democratic process.

In the interest of these concerns, a mutual agreement must be reached among political parties to limit the number of constituencies from which a single candidate can contest. This self-regulation would be a significant step towards ensuring fair play and financial responsibility in the electoral process.

Thereafter, it is imperative that the next government, irrespective of its political alignment, takes definitive steps to amend Article 223 of the Constitution. This amendment should aim to limit candidates to contesting from no more than two seats, in line with international practices.

The need for reform in Pakistan’s poll system is clear. Political parties must collectively work towards implementing these changes. Such an initiative would not only enhance the fairness and integrity of elections but also demonstrate a commitment to responsible governance.

We hope that with mutual understanding and collaboration, Pakistan can move towards a more equitable and financially sustainable electoral system.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2023

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