Dawn Editorial 30th August 2023

Quest for the Cup

ATOP the One-Day International rankings, Pakistan embark on their Asia Cup campaign looking to set a marker for the upcoming World Cup. They kick off proceedings against minnows Nepal in Multan on Wednesday, in a tournament they were supposed to host in full but then had to agree to see its final part being played in Sri Lanka as India was reluctant to send their team across the border.

Babar Azam’s men completed a 3-0 whitewash of Afghanistan last week. Spirits, therefore, are high, and Pakistan enter as favourites to win the tournament and head to the World Cup as the continent’s top side. A measure of how prepared they are, however, will come in their second group game against India.

The game would be the first time the two sides, who don’t play each other in bilateral series, clash in an ODI since 2019. And the format is such that they could meet each other three times should both reach the final on Sept 17.

Winning against India would be an extra incentive for Pakistan. For the country, hosting the Asia Cup was a chance to show its readiness to hold the Champions Trophy in 2025. India’s insistence that their team wouldn’t travel has seen that opportunity vanish, but Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will play at least one match in Pakistan during the tournament.

Pakistan, despite some concerns over the relatively inexperienced middle order, are the most in-form team heading into the contest. Therefore, fans will miss the chance to see their stars in action before they begin their World Cup quest.

Apart from the opener, Pakistan potentially have one more game on home soil depending on the results of the first stage. Last year, Pakistan lost the Asia Cup final — when it was played in the T20 format — and then lost the decider of the T20 World Cup. The hope is that they will do better this time.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2023

‘Foreign hands’

FOR decades, officialdom in Pakistan has been seeing invisible foreign hands busy at work trying to stir up trouble in this country. More often than not, these hands are convenient — but unconvincing — alibis to distract attention from our own shortcomings. Hostile foreign forces are again being invoked by the state to explain the recent mob violence in Jaranwala. Punjab police chief Dr Usman Anwar held a press conference on Monday claiming that alleged acts of blasphemy had recently been committed in Jaranwala and Sargodha to spark religious riots at the behest of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. He added that this plot had been hatched to divert attention from the communal violence that has gripped the Indian state of Manipur for the last several months, and that a suspect, who had repeatedly travelled abroad to get assignments from his handlers to foment violence in Pakistan, was in custody.

Even if we were to assume that the Punjab IGP’s information was accurate, and that hostile foreign actors were constantly working to destabilise communal harmony in Pakistan, what of the hundreds of local individuals who went berserk and torched churches and Christian houses in Jaranwala? Surely all of them were not foreign mercenaries working against the interests of Pakistan. Simply shifting blame onto external actors ‘absolves’ these individuals of their role in this abhorrent violence, and is akin to denialism where the subject of extremism in Pakistani society is concerned. Hostile foreign forces do play cloak-and-dagger games the world over and try to destabilise countries, but religious fanaticism is very much a home-grown problem, and has been so for the past several decades. Since the 1980s, violent non-state actors, with vile sectarian and communal agendas, have proliferated, and at one time were encouraged by the state. Today, these actors — and their ideological descendants — are instrumental in engineering violent reactions to spurious allegations of blasphemy, as well as hounding minority groups. The ongoing campaign targeting Ahmadi worship places should also be seen in this context. By all means, the state should go after hostile agents creating trouble in Pakistan. But key local actors and their supporters who are instrumental in radicalising populations and instigating mobs to target religious minorities should also not escape the law. If there are to be no more Jaranwalas, we need to confront the bitter reality.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2023

Some relief

FORMER prime minister Imran Khan’s legal team and party loyalists may rejoice in their consolation victory at the Islamabad High Court, but the suspension of Mr Khan’s sentence in the Toshakhana case does little for him in the larger scheme of things.

His conviction and, therefore, his disqualification from holding public office continue to stand, and until his appeal against the trial court’s verdict is disposed of, his political fate remains in limbo. Bail or not, it is also unlikely that he will be allowed to walk free anytime soon: as has been the case with other political leaders arrested in recent months, the state could bring new cases against him to bypass release orders.

The wheels are already in motion. Soon after the IHC announced its decision, it surfaced that a special court constituted to try Mr Khan under the Official Secrets Act had directed Attock Jail authorities to keep him locked up and produce him before the court on Aug 30 for the ‘missing cipher’ case.

It had previously been commented that the IHC would find itself compelled to give some relief to the PTI chief, especially after a Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice made adverse observations regarding ‘procedural defects’ in Mr Khan’s conviction in the Toshakana case. Though the SC ultimately restrained itself from intervening more forcefully in the matter, it put the IHC on the spot.

While the apex court’s ‘reservations’ were justifiably criticised as ‘interference’ in the high court’s workings, it bears mentioning that the manner in which Mr Khan was tried and eventually convicted left a lot to be desired. No wonder that independent observers saw it merely as another example of unelected quarters inflicting punishment on a political leader who had dared cross them.

As the aphorism goes, justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. At some point in Pakistan’s recent political history, the law stopped being a reference point for what is right and wrong or what is permissible and what is not. Perhaps it was always so.

Court cases, especially those that have involved political actors, have always seemed more like a means through which different factions within the state may assert their dominance over the other. Despite many bitter experiences over the years, though, nothing seems to change.

Those who were once the victims are now perpetuating the same cycle of violence under the patronage of their own oppressors, and those being oppressed today are just as likely to do the same whenever the roles are inevitably reversed. If the situation appears hopeless, it is only so because those who have had the power to change it have consciously chosen not to. Our leaders must answer: when do they want this to stop?

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2023

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