Dawn Editorial 23 November 2019

Khan-Trump call

WHERE Pakistan-US ties are concerned, many critics have described the relationship as transactional. It is often said that Islamabad has helped Washington carry forward its policy goals in South Asia and the broader region in exchange for material benefits. This may not be an erroneous impression. Still, it is a rather simplistic way of looking at things. From opening the doors to communist China for America to aiding the US in the anti-Soviet ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan has had a long and complex relationship with the world’s sole superpower. Where Afghanistan is concerned, perhaps the realisation has dawned upon those that matter in Washington that without Pakistan, stability will be hard to achieve in that country. In a phone call on Thursday, President Donald Trump thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan for Pakistan’s role in a prisoner exchange, in which Afghan Taliban detainees were swapped for two Western academics. During the call, Mr Khan also asked the US leader to continue mediation efforts with New Delhi with reference to Kashmir.
While it is true that Mr Trump’s foreign policy agenda lacks stability (his country has withdrawn from several key multilateral agreements under him), the American leader is interested in bringing the long Afghan war to a close, chiefly for domestic reasons. The American establishment realises that the Afghan war is more or less unwinnable, and is, therefore, looking for a workable exit strategy to save face and ensure that the country does not turn into a haven for militant groups. The Americans also know that Pakistan has some leverage over the Afghan Taliban, and that any final settlement involving Washington, the Taliban and the government in Kabul will be very difficult to achieve without Pakistan’s help. Therefore, Pakistan’s leadership must communicate clearly to the US that it will do what it can to bring peace to Afghanistan. But the situation in India-held Kashmir cannot be ignored either. While Afghanistan can become a regional security risk should it implode, IHK can also become a trigger for war between two nuclear-armed states.
Pakistan’s leadership must impress upon the Americans that they should use their good offices with India to help forge a solution to the Kashmir question, which is the key to peace in South Asia. Admittedly, India stubbornly claims that Kashmir is an ‘internal’ issue, but despite its tough talk, it is doubtful it has the wherewithal to resist American ‘advice’ to talk peace with Pakistan. Strictly speaking, the conflict between the Taliban and Kabul is also an ‘internal’ issue. But that hasn’t stopped all regional states, as well as the US and others, from urging the hostile actors to make peace. If the US is serious about stability in all of South and Central Asia, then it must emphasise the importance of dialogue with Pakistan with the same seriousness as it pursues an Afghan settlement.


Funding controversy

OF all the problems the PTI has faced since its leader Imran Khan decided to turn it into a mainstream outfit, matching blow for blow, the foreign funding case has perhaps given it the most trouble. And now, as Prime Minister Khan asks the Election Commission of Pakistan that the PTI’s case be heard at the same time as the foreign funding cases against the PML-N and PPP, he is, in effect, comparing his party with those he once deemed too corrupt to be spoken of in the same breath as the PTI.
In that sense, a sobering climbdown has taken place as the ECP prepares to hear the case on a daily basis from Nov 26. The decision on the nonstop hearing comes at the request of the opposition parties that are keen for a verdict during the tenure of the current chief election commissioner, which ends next month.
The opposition parties believe that the decision would pull the rug from under the PTI edifice. Not that the outcome can be predicted as a PTI petition is pending before the Islamabad High Court, but many, including a former senior ECP official, have claimed that an adverse verdict could have serious repercussions for the PTI, including the disqualification of all the lawmakers and even local government representatives of a party ruled as guilty.
The case has taken too long. The matter was first brought for adjudication by PTI dissident Akbar S. Babar in 2014. He had alleged that the illegal transfer of millions of dollars to accounts belonging to those working with the PTI had taken place.
The proceedings of the case have been slow, with the PTI moving the court with various pleas related to the legal points raised by Mr Babar. Before this bracketing of the PTI case with probes against the PPP and PML-N, at one point the PTI wanted the ECP investigation into its funding to be kept secret.
The legal battle aside, the manner in which the PTI has been acting makes very little political sense. Only the other day, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a statement about how the PTI had nothing to fear in this instance since an audit had proved it had done nothing wrong.
Mr Khan’s party and government colleagues could try to reflect their leader’s confidence in their public responses to this long-running funding controversy. But first, the PTI as a reformist party must prove that it has nothing to hide.


Press freedom

IN conferring an award on the editor of this newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists has shone a spotlight on the state of Pakistan’s press in particular, at a time when independent journalism the world over is under threat. Historically, the country’s journalists have been no strangers to the pressures of undemocratic forces and their aversion to the very concept of public-interest journalism; in fact, many media workers have paid the ultimate price with their lives. Yet the situation we face today is even more critical, with the entire fourth estate being bullied into submission by the ratcheting up of dehumanising anti-press rhetoric — even by sections of the incumbent political class. So why do it? Why hold the line when capitulation is the expedient course of action, when the alternative is loss of livelihood and financial ruin, being targeted for harassment and abuse, or even spuriously charged with sedition or cyberterrorism?
There is just one reason, and it is the same reason that has held true for countless journalists over the many decades of Pakistan’s chequered past — to uphold a core pillar of democracy: the public’s right to information. The citizens of Pakistan are constitutionally entitled to participate in the decision-making processes that are shaping this country’s trajectory. They have the right to demand transparency and accountability of public institutions. And they have the right to express dissent in safety knowing that the state will defend this right and protect them against reprisal. The divergence between these principles and the current escalating erosion of fundamental rights must be challenged. The choice before us is either national progress on the basis of an open society, or further injustice, inequality and impunity for the abuse of power. None other than the brave sons and daughters of this soil can win this struggle for the country’s soul, and there is no time more urgent than the present for the press to unite in solidarity and ensure that all Pakistanis’ voices are heard.


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