Dawn Editorial 23rd November 2023

Silenced with impunity

MORE than three months have passed and yet the authorities are nowhere close to solving the Aug 13 murder of journalist Jan Mohammad Mahar in Sukkur. The senior journalist, associated with a Sindhi-language newspaper and its TV channel, was ambushed in his car and shot multiple times. He was rushed to hospital but succumbed to his wounds during surgery. A JIT was formed on Aug 16 to investigate the murder. Another team, to ascertain whether medical negligence led to Mahar’s death, was also formed. It is believed the JITs never even convened. Meanwhile, the police appear to have initially been in a hurry to wrap up the investigation. Within a few hours, investigators narrowed down personal enmity as the motive over anything to do with his journalism. Several suspects have since been arrested, but the prime suspect remains at large. On Tuesday, police claimed to have caught the suspected killer’s son after a fierce gunbattle.

Mahar’s case is playing out in a fashion all too familiar to those in the field. In at least 97 instances of journalists being murdered over the last 30 years, killers have enjoyed complete impunity in 98pc of the cases. The state needs to put an end to this disturbing pattern of violence against journalists. It is incumbent upon the government to actively pursue Mahar’s case, setting a precedent for zero tolerance towards violence against media personnel. Strengthening legal protections, ensuring swift and fair trials, and providing security to those under threat are imperative steps. Moreover, the state must foster a culture of respect for the press. Journalists should be seen as partners in nation-building, not adversaries. Creating an environment where journalists can report without fear is crucial. Mahar’s unresolved murder is a litmus test for Pakistan’s commitment to justice and press freedom. The state must rise to this challenge, for the sake of its journalists and the democratic values they defend.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2023

Square one

WITH the Islamabad High Court finding former prime minister Imran Khan’s jail trial in the cipher case illegal, proceedings have gone back to square one. With neither Mr Khan, nor former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi indicted any longer, they have won themselves momentary respite. Mr Khan had challenged the decision by a single-member IHC bench approving a jail trial. Now the special court formed to try him and others accused will have to hold fresh proceedings. This is an opportunity for the justice system to ensure fairness and transparency in a trial over which much debate and speculation has ensued since Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi’s indictment on Oct 23. Mr Khan was said in the charge sheet to have “illegally retained and wrongly communicated” the cipher, using it for his personal political interests and thereby compromising Pakistan’s security. His FM was charged of abetting him in these acts. It is no secret that Mr Khan repeatedly referred to the cipher as evidence of a conspiracy to remove him, and infamously waved it during a rally to drum up support as the opposition’s no-confidence vote gathered steam. His principal secretary’s statement that he used it to build an “anti-establishment narrative” muddied the waters further.

Mr Khan’s realpolitik notwithstanding the decision to conduct the trial in jail rather than in court was contentious, raising concerns about transparency and whether Mr Khan’s legal rights were being upheld. The manner in which the trial was conducted — much like how Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification rested on a technicality — has all the hallmarks of a witch-hunt rather than a quest for justice. And the timing is eerily similar to the wringer that Mr Sharif was put through: to damage his candidacy just before elections in 2018. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Now that a reset button has been hit, and proceedings will begin anew, justice must not only be ensured, but seen to be ensured. A trial must be held in open court. The accused were high office bearers at one point and must not be tried away from the media’s eye, as the state would try hardened criminals. Where matters of utmost secrecy are to be debated, in-camera proceedings for those limited sessions may be held in a courtroom rather than in prison. History will not view repeated injustices kindly.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2023

Gaza truce

AFTER over six weeks of hellish Israeli violence targeting the Gaza Strip, a brief pause in hostilities has been finally announced. The Qatari-mediated truce between Hamas and Israel is due to take effect for four days, and as per the details available, Israel will release 150 Palestinian women and children being held in detention in exchange for 50 women and minors being held by Hamas.

Both sides had their own rationale for agreeing to the fragile truce; Hamas obviously wanted some respite for the people of Gaza, who have been bravely enduring some of the most brutal state-sponsored violence of the modern age, while there was much pressure on the Israeli state from the families of captives to bring their loved ones back.

Yet the fragility of the situation can be judged from the fact that Israel continued its attacks, this time targeting southern Gaza, which is supposed to be a ‘safe’ zone for civilians, on Wednesday even as news of the truce broke.

The immediate priority should be tending to the needs of Gaza’s civilian population. This includes getting in adequate supplies of food, water and fuel that have been curtailed since the Hamas attacks on Oct 7, after Israel tightened its siege of Gaza.

Medical help also needs to reach the Strip’s injured and infirm without delay, as Israel has laid to waste Gaza’s health system, throwing all the rules of war to the wind in its bloodlust.

Yet the world must be under no illusion that Tel Aviv intends to turn the truce into a long-term ceasefire; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the war will continue, though extension of the truce is possible.

It is here that the international community must apply pressure on Israel to extend the truce and stop the butchery of the Palestinian people. So far, the world community has abjectly failed to protect Gaza’s hapless population from Israel’s blood-soaked forays, with leading powers, particularly the US and European states, resisting calls for a ceasefire. The truce offers a chance for a long-term pause in hostilities.

Though it may be too early to be discussing a future path to peace, with the Palestinians having lost over 14,000 people in what has been one of the bloodiest episodes of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a new paradigm for peace is sorely needed.

While the two-state formula may be buried in the rubble of Gaza, a just solution is required to permanently end this cycle of violence and humiliation. As long as Israel continues to murder Arabs and devour their land, the Palestinians will continue to resist.

Only a just peace that secures for the Palestinians their rights and paves a path for sustainable statehood, and holds Israel accountable for murdering thousands of children, can succeed.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2023

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