Dawn Editorial 25th May 2024

Enduring threat

THE death this week of journalist Nasrullah Gadani, who succumbed to injuries after being attacked by gunmen, is yet another reminder of the perilous state of journalism in Pakistan. The country remains one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. Ranked 152 out of 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders and 11th on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index, our record on press freedom and journalist safety is appalling. This month alone, three other journalists were murdered: Mehar Ashfaq Siyal was gunned down in Punjab, and Muhammad Siddique Mengal was killed by a bomb in Balochistan, while Kamran Dawar, a citizen journalist, was shot dead in KP. The impunity with which these crimes are committed reflects a persistent failure of the state to protect journalists. Sindh, where Gadani was attacked, is particularly hazardous. According to Freedom Network, Sindh accounted for 33pc of the total number of violations against media in Pakistan from May 2023 to March 2024. This includes murders, attacks, injuries, kidnappings, threats, and legal cases. The regional safety commission, established under the Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Practitioners Act, 2021, remains ineffective due to lack of resources, office space, and staff.

The government’s inaction perpetuates a cycle of bloodshed and impunity. To break this cycle, it must take decisive steps. This includes fully activating regional safety commissions with adequate resources, ensuring prompt and transparent investigations into attacks on journalists, and prosecuting those responsible. Capacity building for journalists, particularly in safety protocols, and fostering partnerships between journalists and lawyers for legal recourse are crucial. Until these measures are implemented, Pakistani journalists will continue to work under the shadow of fear, and the state will remain complicit in the erosion of press freedom. The protection of journalists is not simply a legal obligation; it is also a moral imperative. It is high time Pakistan took this responsibility seriously.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

Pemra overreach

IT seems, at best, a misguided measure and, at worst, an attempt to abuse regulatory power to silence the media. A Pemra notification restraining the media from reporting on court proceedings, issued earlier this week, has been challenged in the Lahore and Islamabad high courts by two separate representative bodies of journalists, who have described the gag order as an attempt to interfere in the independence of the judiciary. “Pemra has no legal authority to prohibit the reporting of court proceedings,” reads a joint statement issued by the Press Association of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association, which further notes that “Article 19 and 19A of the Constitution give the right of access to information to the public.” The bodies have condemned the Pemra notification as a “flagrant violation” of the Constitution. It remains to be seen whether a court of law will also interpret it to be so. From journalists’ perspective, while a case can be made for the need to prevent any intentional or unintentional attempt to influence the outcome of ongoing cases, the answer lies not in enforcing a blanket ban on reporting of courtroom proceedings but in the regulator ensuring that media regulations and ethics regarding sub judice matters are fairly enforced.

What seems clear from the wording of the Pemra notification is that the regulator has imperilled the work of courtroom journalists, who dutifully report the statements made by various actors in cases of public interest and national importance. The context cannot be ignored. The Pemra notification has followed on the heels of the apparent ‘grief’ caused to the law minister over remarks recently made by a judge on the role played by intelligence agencies while hearing a missing persons case. Separately, the courts have taken strong exception to ad hominem attacks against judges and a high-profile complaint on interference in judicial affairs and begun proceedings. Additionally, the ‘leaking’ of a picture of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan from his appearance via video link in a court case seems to have greatly irritated the authorities. Have all of these become reasons why it has been decided to keep the public in the dark about what’s happening inside the courtrooms, where the tensions within the state have lately been on full display? The authorities must explain themselves.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

More pledges

THE administration’s campaign to bring Gulf investment to Pakistan continues apace, with the prime minister wrapping up a one-day trip to the UAE on Thursday. Shehbaz Sharif spent a busy day in the Emirates, meeting UAE ruler Mohamed bin Zayed, addressing a conference on tech collaboration, and exchanging notes with other Emirati officials and businessmen.

The meeting with MBZ apparently went well, with Emirati state media saying $10bn had been allocated for investment in “promising economic sectors” in Pakistan. Mr Sharif has mentioned IT, renewable energy and tourism as fields that may attract UAE cooperation. The government has also been courting Saudi Arabia, with the prime minister making two trips to the kingdom over the past two months, while Saudi ministers and delegations have visited Pakistan to reiterate Riyadh’s commitment to invest here. The Saudis have reportedly promised investment worth $5bn.

The pledges from our friends in the Gulf are reassuring, but the multibillion-dollar question is: when will they materialise? Perhaps the Saudis and Emiratis are waiting for the IMF to green-light the next loan to Pakistan before releasing their own funds. Though the IMF loan has yet to be approved, Fund officials have described discussions with the government as “fruitful”, saying that “significant progress” has been made towards a staff-level agreement. Hopefully, once the loan is approved in the near future, the investment agreements signed with Gulf partners will start taking firmer shape.

Unfortunately, due to our past financial profligacy and indiscipline, even traditional allies are wary about putting their money in this country, and await the nod of international financial institutions. On their part, IFIs also monitor our financial dealings with our foreign partners before writing us a cheque. The government must change this negative perception through better financial management, moving the state towards a sustainable economic model.

The prime minister, during his brief UAE trip, addressed these unpleasant issues when he announced that the “begging bowl” had been “broken”. Over 240m Pakistanis are hoping this is actually the case. To truly break free from the shackles of financial dependence, we must put the projected foreign investment to good use, tax the untaxed internally, and learn to live within our means.

Decades of living large — with the elite of this country primarily culpable — has brought us to this sorry pass, and the current opportunity to set our house in order should not be wasted. We must keep pursuing foreign investment, and give the investors a business-friendly climate free of bureaucratic obstacles. Profit repatriation should also be eased to attract foreign money. There needs to be continuity in economic policies, while development must be focused on bringing prosperity to the masses. Moreover, internal harmony, and undisturbed representative rule, are essential for real stability in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

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