Dawn Editorial 23 February 2021

Attack on media

THE attack on the head offices of the Jang Group by charged protesters exhibits the kind of pressure that journalists in the country must work under. On Sunday, scores of people ransacked the reception areas of the Geo office in Karachi, and also beat up a cameraman and other staffers. The mob was said to have been enraged over some comments made by an anchorperson on a show focusing on political humour. Although construed as offensive by some, the remarks aired were evidently in the context of the satirical and tongue-in-cheek nature of the show. Every citizen of this country has a right to protest, but resorting to violence and destroying public or private property must be criticised at all levels. And more so if an apology has already been submitted, as it was in this case by the media house. What is even more surprising is the fact that the police did not stop the angry protesters as they attacked the offices of the largest media group in the country. They chose to do nothing, as according to a report in this paper, they assumed that the person leading the enraged mob would talk to the management and come to a resolution. The attack was roundly condemned by journalists’ associations, representatives of the Sindh, Punjab and federal governments and other high-ranking officials. Later, the Sindh Police promised to take action against the suspects after “collecting CCTV footage” of the incident.
In an environment where news organisations and journalists are already intimidated and routinely feel the necessity to ‘sanitise’ their work, such violent attacks expose the government’s hollow claims of a ‘free media’, making reporters, anchorpersons and others in the field even more vulnerable to outside pressure. One hopes that the promise of better security made by the Sindh government is fulfilled soon and that the inquiry ordered by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah leads to action against those responsible for the violence.



Poll storm in NA-75

THE Election Commission of Pakistan is meeting today to decide on the course of action regarding the by-election in NA-75 Daska whose result it had withheld in light of reports of irregularities and mismanagement.
The chief election commissioner will receive reports from all concerned staff of the commission and then decide whether there should be re-poll in the 20 polling stations marred by controversy, or if a fresh election should be ordered for the whole constituency. The ECP had issued a strongly worded press release a day after the election saying that the staff of those 20 polling station could not be reached till the morning while the police and administration officials of the Punjab government were also unavailable.
The election in Daska also witnessed violence between PTI and PML-N supporters as a result of which two people lost their lives. The ECP should take this election as a test case to identify all the problems that marred it, apportion blame where it lies and take strict action against all those found responsible. It should also ensure it gets answers about the whereabouts of its staff that disappeared in the night along with the results from those stations.
The ‘mystery’ must not remain unsolved. With such a large staff having gone missing, it would be an absolute travesty if the ECP cannot unearth the facts and bring them to the public. The people have a right to know what is happening with their votes. At the same time, the ECP must also demand answers from the Punjab government. If the chief election commissioner cannot depend on the support of a provincial government, then the leadership of that government has some serious explaining to do. At stake is the credibility of the entire system. If a democratic state cannot even organise a free and fair election in a single constituency, and if the polling staff has to work under threat of abduction without anyone being held responsible, then Pakistan’s democratic institutions are far weaker than we would want to admit.
The PTI and PML-N have worsened the situation by sacrificing facts at the altar of political expediency. The former party has the most to lose. If it is tarred with the brush of rigging, its politics will suffer grievously. It is of great concern, therefore, to hear PTI leaders pointing fingers at the ECP instead of demanding answers from their own government in Punjab. It is high time that all parties took the pending issue of electoral reforms seriously. Without these reforms, our elections will remain controversial and generate political instability continuously. For now however, all parties must adhere to the decision of the ECP even if it goes against them. They must accept the findings and the verdict without dragging the ECP into further controversy. A lot is riding on the Daska election.



Electric vehicles

THE approval of Pakistan’s first electric vehicle policy towards the end of last year has given rise to an ongoing media debate. It has been pointed out that while we are now one step closer to a pollution-free environment, a greener future will depend a lot on the development of fast-charging electric vehicle batteries and the availability of charging infrastructure on roads and highways. The new EV technology is considered a game changer for the environment and promises various benefits to developing countries like Pakistan that are facing chronic balance-of-payments crisis by reducing their fossil fuel imports, and to consumers by slashing their recurring fuel and maintenance costs. However, the adoption of EV technology remains slow even in developed countries despite its salutary impact on the environment and multiple economic advantages for consumers. Pakistan is unlikely to defy this global trend in spite of significant tax and other concessions announced in the policy to escalate the adoption of the technology. According to reports, the government plans that 30pc of all new cars, trucks, buses, vans and jeeps, and 50pc of all two-, three- and four-wheelers will be electric vehicles by 2030. By 2040, 90pc of vehicles on the road are envisioned as electric. An ambitious target indeed.
The slow adoption of green technology across the world has also raised the question of whether it is advisable for Pakistan to jump directly into an electric future or take the hybrid route. While Chinese carmakers are in favour of a direct shift to an EV future, Japanese automobile companies want the government to follow a route where both electric vehicles and hybrid (including plugged-in hybrid) electric vehicles are allowed to compete as is the case in countries like India, Thailand and Malaysia. Hence, Japanese carmakers in Pakistan have been calling for similar incentives and concessions for hybrid technology. The step-by-step approach, they say, to move from the existing internal combustion engines to zero-emission vehicles will benefit every stakeholder — automobile companies, auto parts manufacturers, government and consumers. They have a strong point when they argue that hybrid electric vehicles can ‘achieve scales given their costs and subsequently when EV technology becomes more affordable the country can always graduate to electric vehicles’. The Engineering Development Board, which is developing the next Auto Industry Development and Export Programme 2021-26, needs to carefully weigh the arguments advanced by both sides and take ground realities into account before finalising the new policy.

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