Dawn Editorial 22 January 2021

Time to heal
Wednesday, a sense of normality returned to Washington as Joe Biden took his oath of office as US president, bringing to an end four tumultuous years of Trumpism. Donald Trump’s time in the White House was a veritable roller-coaster ride, with the former president throwing convention to the wind and creating a number of crises domestically and in foreign affairs. Therefore, Mr Biden has a major task ahead of him, and it will require the veteran American politician to go the extra mile to put out the many fires his unorthodox predecessor has lit.
It is a fact that Joe Biden is no revolutionary statesman; in fact, he represents the status quo ante, a return to predictable American politics. However, after Mr Trump, one can say that a return to ‘normal’ may not be such a bad thing. On the home front, Mr Biden has to deal with a raging coronavirus pandemic, a floundering economy and a nation deeply divided along racial and ideological lines.
Overseas, he will have to steer American policy in a positive direction after Donald Trump provoked China as well as Iran. He will also have to coax America out of isolation mode and steer it towards reintegration into the global mainstream.
Within the US, the Trump era exposed racial tensions that had been bubbling under the surface for long and that exploded last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests, following the murder of George Floyd. Meanwhile, the attack on the US Capitol earlier this month by Trump supporters showed that the far right in the US is hardly a spent force, and has literally shaken the corridors of power. Therefore, ensuring racial justice and checking the mushroom growth of far-right white extremism must top Mr Biden’s domestic agenda.
The Covid-19 pandemic also looms large over the US; the new president has already signed a raft of measures to deal with the crisis. Moreover, Mr Biden has reversed the so-called Muslim ban, while saying that the US was back in the Paris climate accord. On the foreign front, a number of issues await the new US leader’s attention. These include the confrontation with China, whom Mr Trump accused of “ripping off” the US, setting in motion a steady decline in Sino-American relations. Mr Biden’s predecessor also ripped up the Iran nuclear accord and at one point brought Washington and Tehran dangerously close to war.
Further, Mr Trump’s mollycoddling of Israel destroyed any illusion of American neutrality in the Arab-Israeli dispute. All these foreign issues will test Mr Biden’s mettle and require progressive thinking. Where Pakistan is concerned, key members of the new president’s team have said this country is an ‘essential partner’ especially where peace in Afghanistan is concerned. It is hoped the Biden administration works to improve the bilateral relationship with Pakistan in order to help bring peace and prosperity to South Asia.



Foreign funding

AS the pressure builds on his party in the foreign funding case, Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for an expanded public scrutiny of funds given to all political parties. Mr Khan made this statement in response to criticism by the opposition parties who have called on the ECP to conclude the case of the foreign funds allegedly received by the PTI. The matter has dragged on for over six years. While the PPP and PML-N have indicated they would accept Mr Khan’s challenge, the ECP has ruled out the option of a public hearing and has asked that “unnecessary comments” be avoided in this case.
In principle, the full disclosure of political finances received by parties and candidates during polls is a critical step towards increasing electoral transparency and accountability. In some countries, there are laws that require political parties to disclose the source and amount of funds received, while in others there is a cap on how much can be spent by a candidate. Such practices if followed would indeed strengthen the democratic process in Pakistan, where allegations of bribes and horse-trading mar every election. However, Mr Khan’s demand that the scrutiny be applied to other parties too is a tad hollow. His party’s source of foreign funds have been the subject of an investigation for over six years now — a period that has seen considerable foot-dragging by the PTI in the form of petitions challenging the ECP’s jurisdiction. In this context, where his party has fought tooth and nail against disclosure, his demand for across-the-board accountability reeks of double standards. Ironically, his view here is similar to the demands of the opposition parties, who have railed against a targeted witch-hunt at the hands of the PTI and NAB. The PPP and PML-N have repeatedly pointed out that the rules of accountability are different for the ruling party and the opposition. In contrast, Mr Khan has not only claimed the anti-corruption drive is independent, he has also consistently hit out at his rivals in the opposition for evading accountability and disrespecting the judicial process. For him to call for an expanded inquiry at a time when his party is in the dock will be seen as an attempt to deflect attention from the case. Perhaps it is time he held himself to rigorous standards of accountability, and came out with the facts regarding the PTI’s finances so that the foreign funding case can be put to rest.



Decaying PTV

THE Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises has decided to remove Pakistan Television from the list of organisations proposed to be privatised. This decision was based on a request from the Ministry of Information whose representative argued that PTV was in the process of being restructured and revamped so it can become financially viable and efficient in order to amplify the national narrative. The decision not to privatise the organisation may be a good one but the problem with PTV is much larger. The fundamental issue is the government’s inability to comprehend the actual role of a taxpayer-funded channel. In Pakistan, we continue to call PTV the ‘state broadcaster’ whose primary role is to serve the government of the day. This is wrong. In a democracy, a channel funded by the taxpayer is envisioned as a ‘public broadcaster’ whose mandate is to generate wholesome and credible content aimed at informing, educating and entertaining viewers in a way that they become better and more empowered citizens of the state. A public broadcaster is not supposed to be a mouthpiece for the government of the day spewing crude propaganda, substandard news and information devoid of credibility and authenticity. Sadly, this is what PTV is doing today.
There is only one way to reform this white elephant. It must be taken away from the clutches of the information ministry and the governing board beholden to the government, and handed over to an independent and professional management that can run it without any official pressure. There are various examples in the world where countries have converted their decaying state media organisations into vibrant public broadcasters, so if the PTI government has the vision, courage and foresight to make the decision, implementing it will not be a very difficult task. PTV in its present form is a burden that the Pakistani taxpayer must not have to carry. If it is not reformed it will go the way of the dinosaurs.

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