Dawn Editorial 27 November 2019

PTI to the rescue

IT is a stunning volte-face, even for a government that has many an about-face under its belt.
On Monday, the PTI government filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court seeking a deferment of the verdict in the case against retired Gen Pervez Musharraf for high treason, due to be announced tomorrow.
The trial has dragged on since March 2014, when a special court constituted to try the former military dictator charged him under Article 6 for suspending the Constitution in 2007 and imposing emergency rule.
Exactly a week before his government came to Mr Musharraf’s rescue, Prime Minister Imran Khan — evidently riled up by Nawaz Sharif’s departure for medical treatment abroad — made an ill-considered jibe against the superior judiciary, asking it to “restore public trust by ending the impression about favouring the powerful against the poor”.
In a robust defence of his institution, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa retorted that the judiciary had convicted one prime minister and disqualified another, and that a verdict against a former army chief was soon to be delivered.
Surely anyone familiar with Pakistan’s history knows that an army chief can be counted among that sliver of the elite whose influence, to a great extent, endures beyond retirement. Indeed, so powerful is this office that Mr Musharraf is the first of his cohort to have faced prosecution for suspending the Constitution.
How then can a government that loses no opportunity to portray itself as a champion of ordinary citizens, and that has vowed to punish the abuse of office by the privileged few, rush to Mr Musharraf’s defence?
The yet to be announced verdict notwithstanding, certain facts are irrefutable: the military dictator suspended the fundamental law of the land, thereby stripping the people of constitutional protections based on principles of justice and liberty.
When a party that has come to power through the electoral process can seek relief for such an individual, who is alleged to have committed one of the most serious crimes against the state, it could justifiably be accused of harbouring a soft spot for authoritarian rule. That a number of duly elected people’s representatives — including a former prime minister — have been subjected to months-long detention without charge while the government touts its ‘accountability’ credentials, only strengthens this perception.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown regrettably poor judgement in authorising the bizarre intervention on behalf of Mr Musharraf.
After all, it should have been self-evident that this move, far from burnishing the PTI’s reputation, would convey the impression of a government at odds with itself.
As expected, social media has dug up video evidence of Mr Khan many years ago denouncing the former army chief’s actions and his imposition of emergency. As head of a parliamentary democracy today, the prime minister should not have wavered from that stance.



Clean, green Pakistan?

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan on Monday inaugurated the Clean Green Pakistan Index, a project that will, in its initial phase, rank 19 cities in Punjab and KP on their cleanliness and ‘green’ character. This ranking, the government hopes, will invoke a competition among cities for improving their infrastructure and environmental sustainability. The cities are to be judged on different criteria including sanitation, beautification and the usability of public spaces. Even before he became prime minister, Mr Khan attached a great deal of importance to conserving the natural environment — unlike previous dispensations. He has also raised the issue at several international forums, including the UN General Assembly in September. The new project, then, is in keeping with his vision of a green Pakistan. However, how workable is it considering the paralysis in the local governments of Punjab and KP, as well as in the national economy? It is unclear to what extent the local administrations will be empowered to take decisions and if they can furnish or request additional funds for building parks, etc. In fact, for all the prime minister’s endeavours, his government has failed to come up with a comprehensive strategy for mitigating the effects of climate change.

While the prime minister was not wrong in saying during the CGPI inauguration that the previous Punjab government was responsible for turning Lahore into a concrete jungle, the fact does not detract from the PTI’s own abysmal performance, its ‘billion-tree tsunami’ in KP notwithstanding. For example, the flagship development project of the PTI in KP, the Peshawar BRT, has been criticised on numerous counts, ranging from the destruction of public spaces to the use of substandard material for construction. Moreover, the PTI’s own state minister for environment, Zartaj Gul, downplayed the eye-burning smog in Punjab, indicating that it had been exaggerated by those with ‘vested interests’. International rights groups have called out the government over its inaction in tackling the smog hazards but so far there is no clear plan for improving the air quality of Lahore. Meanwhile, the ban on the sale and manufacture of single-use plastics has seen very limited implementation and factories producing them have hardly been checked. There is a lot the government can do to match its words with actions and deliver on its promises of an unpolluted environment by taking small but sustainable steps. However, blaming past dispensations while ignoring its own shortcomings is not the answer.



SEZ commitments

THE new phase of CPEC that is set to begin, and which the government is defending vigorously as the central pillar of the crucial corridor project, has as its centrepiece the creation of Special Economic Zones that will offer critical incentives to all industries that opt for locating their plant within them. But while this commitment is repeated regularly in public remarks, those businessmen who have invested in existing SEZs are lining up to say that they regret their decision because the government has reneged on its key pledges. Only recently, we saw the government impose a 1.5pc turnover tax on all enterprises including those located in the SEZs, even though the SEZ Act of 2012 specifically exempts them from such impositions. When delegates from these SEZs met the government and tax officialdom to take up their concern, their request was denied with special objection from the FBR that invoked the strict revenue targets being chased by the government as one of the justifications. Beyond that, enterprises that have begun operations in the three main SEZs of the country — Bin Qasim Industrial Park, the Korangi Creek Industrial Park and Khairpur Special Economic Zone — have also found that the government commitment to providing infrastructure has not been met, with some of them having to run on power connections on a temporary basis, the tariff of which is far higher than what they were told it would be.

This does not make for an edifying sight. Many of those who feel short-changed by these commitments — of infrastructure provision and tax-free status — are foreign investors. If the commitments made to investors in the existing SEZs are not being met, the government cannot credibly extend the same to new investors in another round of SEZ construction. It is important that the government, whether provincial or federal, sit down and remove the concerns of investors in the three main SEZs before making further fresh commitments to SEZs under CPEC.



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