Dawn Editorial 22 December 2019

Unwise support

IT is difficult to disagree with former Supreme Court chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s blunt words on the eve of his retirement on Friday. A malicious campaign, he contended, had been launched to malign the judiciary in the wake of the special court’s verdict declaring retired Gen Pervez Musharraf guilty of high treason.
Much ugliness has indeed been spewed in public over the past few days against the third pillar of the state, including veiled accusations that it is playing into the hands of those seeking to sow internal discord.
Between the lines, one can also perceive a ‘promise’ of things to come if institutional reserves of ‘restraint’ run dry. Even the attorney general, an officer of the court himself, has not held back from adding to the toxicity. It is an entirely needless and manufactured crisis — but one that can still be defused without disastrous consequences.
For that to happen, however, the security establishment must view the former military dictator’s conviction through a more detached lens, and in a historical context. Its deep displeasure over the conviction was clear from the very outset — in the ISPR statement professing “pain and anguish” — even before the detailed verdict came out, which was then also excoriated in a belligerent presser by the DG ISPR.
Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth’s macabre proviso in an otherwise well-reasoned opinion has provided a red herring with which to obfuscate the operative parts of the judgement. The fact is: Mr Musharraf has been convicted under Article 6, which defines abrogating, subverting, suspending or holding in abeyance the Constitution as high treason.
These actions, as we are sadly too aware, are also part of the coup-makers’ handbook. By unwisely conflating the individual with the institution in the present case, is the security establishment by extension also declaring its support for military dictators Ziaul Haq and Ayub Khan who usurped power from elected governments, and Yahya Khan who oversaw the breakup of the country? If, as the DG ISPR said, “the country comes first and the institution second,” this is the time to demonstrate that.
For its part, the judiciary has travelled a long way from validating extra-constitutional acts on the pretext of ‘doctrine of necessity’, first employed in 1954 by then chief justice Mohammed Munir. In 2011, Iftikhar Chaudhry, chief justice at the time, vowed the judiciary would no longer endorse military takeovers, and the special court’s verdict can be seen as an emphatic reassertion of that pledge.
Even parliament, despite brief, interrupted periods of civilian rule, has shown a latent capacity to understand the real issues that confront us; for instance, the importance of greater provincial autonomy.
Our security establishment must reflect upon its constitutionally mandated role. The country is best served by respect for institutional boundaries: that is the path towards people-centric rather than security-centric policies.
True national interest lies in strengthening democracy, with security considerations the bulwark, rather than the centrepiece, in this objective.


Bancassurance scams

THE SECP has done the right thing by starting an inquiry into the aggressive selling of bancassurance products. For too many years, banks have been misleading the people into buying these products that are hybrids of insurance and savings instruments, with the promise of large returns and insurance cover as well. The hybrid products come in various packages, sometimes for children’s education, sometimes as a retirement plan, etc. They involve a partnership between insurance companies and banks, making it easy for both to evade responsibility once the client invariably discovers that the product is not really what it was made out to be during the sales process. Banks have set high targets for each branch for the sale of these products, and the staff in these branches can get aggressive in trying to close the deal, sometimes even resorting to emotional blackmail or subtle ‘threats’. Sales practices that are clearly misleading have been used by sales staff to get customers to sign the forms needed to apply for these products. Typically, the sales staff will target older clients who are willing to trust the brand name of the bank they are dealing with. In many cases, the trust that customers place in their financial institution is manipulated to build a market for these products.
It is high time this practice was ended because the manner in which these products have been pushed onto customers amounts to a scam. Customers who have already been taken in by a sales pitch for a product need to be made aware that they are entitled to a full refund of the money that they have placed. It is important to push awareness of this basic fact because banks and insurance companies do their best to conceal it from their customers. The SECP should open a portal where customers who feel they were misled into buying one of these products can register their complaint and seek the regulator’s help in getting a full refund of their money. There is nothing wrong with financial institutions partnering to offer novel products for their customers, but tighter regulations are needed to ensure that such offerings carry genuine benefits for the customer, that misleading sales practices are not used to push them, and that the terms are clearly laid out in the product brochures rather than contained in the fine print of the contracts.


Rights and respect

THROUGHOUT the world, sanitation workers perform some of the most vital services that make daily living possible for everyone else. But in Pakistan, they continue to be the most marginalised, overlooked and ill-treated workforce. Born into their ‘roles’ by virtue of a cruel caste system — which may not exist on paper, but continues to be perpetuated in the minds of the people and employees — most sanitation workers use their bare bodies to collect and clean up filth underground, away from the eyes of polite society. And they often do so without any protective equipment, shoes or clothing, making them susceptible to a host of diseases and injuries. Since they ‘inherit’ their occupation, as if this is just what they are ‘supposed’ to do, most do not receive any formal training. In August, 30-year-old Rafiq Masih died while he was cleaning a storm-water drain in Landhi, Karachi, while his colleagues fell unconscious from inhaling toxic fumes. Earlier, in 2017, 28-year-old Irfan Masih was rushed to a government hospital in Umerkot after inhaling poisonous fumes. He tragically died after being refused treatment by doctors at the Umerkot Civil Hospital because he was deemed ‘unclean’. Like Rafiq and Irfan, many other workers continue to die due to society’s collective neglect and prejudice.
At a recent press conference in Karachi, activists bemoaned the poor treatment and lack of rights suffered by sanitation workers. They demanded that the government regularise their jobs, as many had been working on a contract basis for years, and grant them safety equipment and health insurance. They also highlighted how two recent laws — the National Sanitation Policy 2016 and the Sindh Sanitation Policy 2017 — did not take the workers into the fold and resultantly made no mention of them. As mentioned by the activists, it is imperative that the voices of sanitation workers be heard. They have been rendered invisible for far too long. Their struggle is not just for rights, but respect at a very basic level.


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