Dawn Editorial 25 January 2021

PPP’s plan?

THE PDM faces a fresh crisis as the PPP takes a conspicuously soft position on the long march. While the PDM talks of mass resignations and a ‘decisive’ march, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari last week said his party hopes to remove Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government through a no-confidence move in the National Assembly. Mr Bhutto-Zardari also vowed to persuade members of the opposition alliance to adopt this view, which he said is a “democratic, constitutional and lawful procedure”. It is unclear how the PPP chairman will achieve this goal, as not only does the opposition not have the numbers in the National Assembly to pull off such a stunt, but street agitation is still very much part of the PDM’s plans. When the PDM was formed, the opposition parties at the multiparty conference pledged to topple the government with a three-pronged strategy — the ultimate component was a long march. The PPP, too, has publicly endorsed this position. While toppling a government through democratic means such as no-confidence motions or street agitation is within the rights of the opposition parties, the PPP’s volte-face on this key step in the alliance’s strategy puts a question mark on the self-proclaimed democratic character of the movement.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari must explain what has brought about this change of tack. Is there pressure on his party to amend its position? After the early days of hitting out at the government and targeting ‘selectors’, the PPP first buckled with a lukewarm response to the resignation issue and is now abandoning the long march idea. Even if the PPP manages to persuade the PML-N on this issue — the chances of which are slim — together the two opposition parties do not have the numbers in the Assembly to successfully pass such a motion without external engineering. An unsuccessful motion would further strengthen the government’s position and undermine if not decimate the PDM. Ironically, in 2018 when the PPP with its strength in the Senate brought about a no-trust motion against then chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, it fell flat on its face. How then, with a strength of 50-odd MNAs does it plan to pass a motion that requires 170 or so votes? The PPP has some explaining to do, and must make clear what its motivations are one way or the other. For it to adopt a strategy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is politically damaging.



Forward guidance

THE State Bank has taken the unusual step of issuing a forward guidance in its latest monetary policy statement to tell markets that no raise in interest rates is likely in the near term, but it remains to be seen whether this will mollify sceptical buyers of government debt. The most likely explanation for why the regulator felt it necessary to take this step is the lacklustre participation that recent debt auctions have seen. Most bids are now congregating around shorter three-month tenors in Treasury bills, which is usually an indication that banks are expecting a rate hike. In the last auction conducted on Jan 13, 96pc of the realised value was in three-month paper. With its forward guidance, the State Bank seems to be telling the banks that their anticipation of a rate hike is futile and they should modify their bidding behaviour.
The next debt auction is scheduled for Jan 27 and it will provide an interesting opportunity to test the impact of the forward guidance. If the banks refuse to heed the State Bank’s words and continue crowding around the shortest tenor on offer, it will be a sign of the futility of the exercise. At that point, the central bank will have some decisions to make. Most market analysts were not expecting a rate hike at this point in any case, but the unusual meeting between the State Bank governor and the prime minister only days before the monetary policy decision has given rise to the impression that the central bank might have been prodded to not raise rates at this time. A rate hike would have adverse consequences for the nascent recovery underway in the economy, and that is something the government is understandably reluctant to see happen. But if markets are not assuaged, and pressure from the IMF is strong, the central bank might have limited options because continuing with low rates could have implications for the exchange rate, as well as the profile of the stock of government debt.



Where the buck stops

THERE’S no getting around it: the buck stops with the prime minister. The Islamabad High Court said as much on Tuesday when it observed that the country’s chief executive and his cabinet were responsible for enforced disappearances in the federal capital.
In keeping with that stance, it sought a list of the prime ministers and cabinet members who had been in office since the time that a computer engineer named Imran Khan was allegedly abducted from his Islamabad residence in 2015. The IHC is currently hearing a petition filed by the missing man’s mother which says there was no case or complaint filed against him in any police station, and that if he was suspected of any crime he should have been proceeded against in court.
That is precisely what the Constitution holds: the rights to due process and security of person are accorded to every individual in this country. When such fundamental rights are trampled upon, a country becomes unmoored from the values that qualify it to be considered a ‘civilised’ nation, and a slide into unalloyed authoritarianism becomes almost inevitable.
The courts in Pakistan are taking an increasingly firm stance against enforced disappearances. Their message is clear: the government and its functionaries cannot simply throw up their hands and claim the matter is beyond their power to resolve. As the IHC’s top judge, Justice Athar Minallah, noted in the case mentioned above, the security, well-being and safety of a citizen is the state’s constitutional obligation. On Jan 1, the IHC took the unprecedented step of imposing a Rs10m fine on several government personnel for their failure in locating another individual, Ghulam Qadir, who has been missing since six years.
Then, a few days ago while hearing the petition filed for the recovery of Abdullah Omar, abducted in 2015, the IHC’s Justice Kayani pointed out: “The state should not ‘serve’ the nation through illegal means.” He also said that if the case was not resolved to the court’s satisfaction, it would take action against the incumbent IG and interior secretary. Earlier last week, a Sindh High Court bench, irked by the state’s inability to trace a person missing for over six years warned of sending the secretaries for defence and the interior to prison for their failure. The bench rejected the report submitted by the investigating officer in the case, saying “This drama will not be tolerated any longer”.
These are but three cases of missing people in what has become a never-ending saga. While the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances pursues its mandate in a half-baked manner, it is left to the courts to pick up the mantle for the Pakistanis spirited away for unknown ‘transgressions’ from the quiet backwaters of Balochistan to the crowded streets of the country’s capital. When will the government step up to the task?

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