Dawn Editorial 28th July 2023

UNGA resolution

AS attempts by bigots and provocateurs to attack Islam’s sacred symbols continue unabated, efforts are also being made at international fora to denounce these despicable acts, and forge a global consensus against hate speech targeting religious sanctities. The latest development in this regard occurred at the UN General Assembly recently, when a resolution was adopted deploring “acts of violence against persons” on the basis of their religious beliefs, along with acts “directed at their religious symbols, holy books … or places of worship”. The resolution was sponsored by Morocco and co-sponsored by Pakistan, while other Muslim states, including Malaysia and Egypt, also helped in the effort. Spain, on behalf of the EU, tried to water down the text, but the majority of states voted against any amendments. This follows the adoption of a resolution condemning religious hatred passed at the UN’s Human Rights Council. Pakistan had spearheaded that effort. These moves come in the wake of vile attempts to attack Islamic symbols in various European states, specifically the burning and desecration of copies of the Holy Quran in Sweden and Denmark.

Efforts to counter such hateful behaviour must continue at all forums. Clearly, the reaction of Muslim states and other countries that believe in universal respect, is having an impact. Some media reports have quoted the Swedish foreign minister as saying that legal efforts are underway to prevent future attempts at desecrating the Quran. Certainly, Western states must use all the tools at their disposal to prevent the repeat of such atrocious behaviour, as hiding behind notions of freedom of expression to justify it is unacceptable. After all, burning the Quran and attacking Islamic sanctities is just the first step. The next step is the actual murder of Muslims, as the Quebec City and Christchurch mosque killings testify. The criminals involved in these atrocities come from the same ideological gene pool as those involved in desecrating Islamic symbols.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2023

SIFC initiative

GIVEN the haste with which the government is trying to roll out a legal infrastructure for the military-backed Special Investment Facilitation Council to “facilitate the promised investments” from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, we may soon witness the arrival of Arab investors. The cabinet’s approval of changes to the Investment Board Ordinance weeks before its tenure ends is likely to clear the way for an early creation of the SIFC’s structure, working procedures and cooperation mechanisms with different federal ministries and provinces. The council is being formed to attract Gulf investments in agriculture, IT, mining and defence production. The main goal of this ‘whole-of-the-government’ initiative is to ease the concerns of Gulf investors on policy continuity, as well as provide a one-window solution to them. These two factors are often blamed for hampering FDI inflows. The council’s formation will also help Gulf investors circumvent bureaucratic hurdles and cumbersome rules, while the military’s buy-in in the initiative indicates that political changes or instability won’t result in the discontinuation of or disruption in policies. Besides eyeing direct Gulf investment, Pakistan also hopes to sell public-sector assets and state-owned business to the Arab investors, and is in the process of transferring assets worth over Rs2.3tr to the recently formed Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund for privatising or leasing those enterprises. A Karachi port terminal has already been leased to the Emiratis.

As much as this SFIC initiative is needed, its purpose appears to be limited to facilitating Gulf investment in Pakistan. The government needs to expand the scope of this project to woo investors from other places too. The removal of restrictions on repatriation of profits by foreign investors, which plunged by 80pc to $331m in the last fiscal year, could be the starting point to give confidence to existing foreign investors that their problems are also being resolved on a priority basis. This is already resulting in further decline in the small amount of FDI we have been able to attract as Pakistan isn’t seen as an attractive FDI destination except by investors who are promised exorbitant and guaranteed returns as we have seen in power projects under CPEC. The expansion of ‘facilitation policies’ is necessary not only to attract investors from other countries but also to create competition for Gulf companies.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2023

Control.pk

THE PDM government, much like the PTI government before it, has proven that our politicians have little interest in protecting civil liberties if there is something to be gained from surrendering them.

Two bills, aimed at bringing under state control online media and digital platforms — the last remaining spaces where most Pakistanis can still freely express themselves — received the federal cabinet’s nod of approval on Monday.

The innocuously titled ‘Personal Data Protection Bill’ and ‘E-Safety Bill’ are, critics say, much more sinister in intent than their titles suggest. Internet rights activists have slammed the government, with a statement circulating on the internet, co-signed by industry pioneers as well as prominent digital rights activists, lawyers and journalists, stressing that “legislation prepared in secrecy and passed in haste disregarding input and clear reservations, serves no protective purpose but reeks of nefarious designs to further curb the rights and liberties of citizens”. The signatories to the statement believe that “these bills must not be passed”.

Separately, the Asia Internet Coalition has especially criticised the Personal Data Protection Bill, saying it “falls short of international standards for data protection and creates unnecessary complexities that will increase the cost of doing business and dampen foreign investment”.

The managing director of the organisation also pointed out that “the bill creates additional barriers to digital trade at a critical time, when Pakistan’s economic growth demands paramount attention”.

The question naturally arises: how does the PDM government, which has pinned much of its economic turnaround hope on growth in the country’s nascent IT industry, square its vision with such measures that, if they do not kill the nascent IT industry, will surely cripple it?

It defies understanding, and it is unsurprising that the reaction to its secretive new laws has been swift and condemnatory. The government clearly has no clue about how to empower the industry and unlock its potential.

It is obvious that the need for these legislative interventions has not arisen from any pressing public concern. This much is evident from the manner in which the two bills were quietly drafted, tabled before the cabinet, and hurriedly passed. Even the government’s allies, it seems, were unaware of their existence.

Observers fear it is the state that has been unable to shut down the unbridled ridicule and criticism it has lately been receiving online, which is pushing these laws. To them, it wants the same control over online publishing platforms that it has over traditional media.

The PTI learnt after its ouster that, had it not been for the Islamabad High Court striking down very similar rules and laws it had introduced towards the tail-end of its tenure, it would have quickly been crushed by the state. The PDM should not repeat the same mistake.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2023

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