Dawn Editorial 3rd April 2024

Lesser half

IN a nation where women form nearly half the population, they are conspicuously absent from positions of judicial authority. Recent data from the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan highlights that out of the 126 judges in the upper tier of the judiciary, only seven are women. It is particularly alarming that out of the 12 Supreme Court judges, only two are women, highlighting a significant gender disparity at the highest level of the judiciary. This underrepresentation extends to the district judiciary, where women make up only 19pc of the total judicial officers. The journey to gender parity in the judiciary has been fraught with obstacles. It took 70 years for Pakistan to witness its first female high court chief justice, a milestone that casts a spotlight on the systemic barriers faced by women in ascending to leadership positions. The case of justice Fakhar-un-Nissa Khokar is a reminder of this reality; despite her seniority, she was never elevated to become chief justice of the Lahore High Court.

The absence of women in the judiciary perpetuates a skewed perspective within the halls of justice. Women bring unique insights to the bench, essential for addressing gender-specific issues and ensuring a more equitable dispensation of justice. Their presence is not only a matter of representation; it is a prerequisite for fostering a judiciary that reflects the values of fairness and equality. Addressing this disparity requires concerted efforts from all quarters. Reforms in the appointment process are essential to ensure that deserving female candidates are not overlooked, while proactive measures to support women in the legal profession are crucial for nurturing talented female jurists. Most importantly, the path to gender equality demands proactive engagement from women themselves, so that they can assert their rights and claim positions of influence on their own terms. It is time to pave the way for a judiciary that truly represents the aspirations of all Pakistanis.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

Dangerous escalation

MONDAY’S attack by Israel on Iran’s consulate in Damascus marks a dangerous escalation in an already volatile region. It is also the continuation of a belligerent posture by an aggressor unbound by the principles of proportionality or respect for sovereign entities. Less than a week ago, Israel carried out air strikes in Syria’s Aleppo, killing more than 40 people. It has routinely launched attacks against its neighbours in search of what it says are existential enemies. Using the momentum from its Gaza invasion and the support it has received from Western countries, despite its shocking excesses in the devastated Strip, it is now rapidly wading into a wider conflagration. The Damascus attack, which killed at least seven individuals, including two Iranian top commanders, has sparked vows of retaliation from Tehran. The destruction of a diplomatic facility — a move that flagrantly violates international conventions — underscores a troubling readiness to lay waste to any entity Israel deems an obstacle. The latest act of aggression is part of a broader pattern of military engagements, particularly evident in the protracted siege of Gaza over the past six months, where almost 33,000 people have been butchered, and where famine-like conditions prevail.

The global reaction to the strike has been a mix of condemnation and calls for restraint. While Syria and Iran’s allies have vocally decried the strike, the international community is in a diplomatic bind. As it urges de-escalation, it is faced with the reality of a complex, multifaceted conflict that defies easy resolution. The US, though distancing itself from the attack, saying it had “no involvement” and “did not know about it ahead of time”, did express concern over any action that could escalate the conflict. Meanwhile, an emergency meeting of the Security Council has been convened at the request of Russia, a close Iranian ally. Israel, emboldened by unconditional US support, disregards the collateral impact on diplomatic norms, regional stability, and human life. The urgent need for Tel Aviv to reassess its approach and rein in its bloodlust cannot be overstated. Washington and its allies must acknowledge that they have already lost their moral authority and need to do more than issuing hollow platitudes. The international community, particularly the UN, must take a more assertive stance in holding Israel accountable for adventurism that threatens to ignite a wider conflict.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

Senate elections

THE Senate returned to almost its full strength yesterday after an unusually sedate election. Unfortunately, polling for KP’s seats could not be held due to an ongoing stand-off between the provincial government and the ECP over reserved seats.

Meanwhile, there were few reports of the feverish wheeling-dealing and horse-trading that have, in the past, marred the conduct of Senate polls, which are held every three years to elect half of the total strength of the Upper House.

All of the candidates for Balochistan’s seats were declared winners unopposed, while in Punjab, the PTI, PML-N, and PPP reportedly reached an understanding that allowed its seven general seats to be filled without contest. Punjab’s five remaining seats — two for women, two for technocrats, and one for minorities — were all grabbed by the PML-N, thanks to its majority in the provincial assembly. In Sindh, the PPP secured all seats but two, which went to the MQM-P and Faisal Vawda, respectively.

Considering the drama surrounding the general election that took place just about two months earlier, the Senate election, at least on the face of it, managed to steer clear of any serious controversies. However, one need only look at the list of returned candidates to begin wondering whether the same forces and considerations prevailed.

For example, both the caretaker prime minister and chief minister of Punjab, who supposedly do not have any party affiliation, managed to secure a seat each, unopposed. The speculation was that they were rewarded for the ‘services’ they had rendered. The PML-N sacrificed a loyalist’s seat for former bureaucrat Ahad Cheema, while ‘independent’ candidate Faisal Vawda magically won the PPP’s support for his candidature at the last minute, despite having nothing obvious to offer in return. Observers naturally connected his good fortune to friends in high places.

These elections also seemed like the end of an era in some respects. The PPP sidelined long-time loyalists and seasoned politicians like Raza Rabbani and Waqar Mehdi when handing out tickets, while the PML-N was forced to ignore stalwarts like Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Khurram Dastgir and Javed Latif while handing its seats over to outsiders.

Finally, a comment on these Senate elections would not be complete without a word on how far-reaching the consequences of interfering in general elections can be. For example, the quarrel over public representation triggered by the ECP’s ‘bat verdict’ still rages and resulted in elections for KP’s seats being delayed yesterday.

And, because Senate seats are generally apportioned based on each party’s strength in their respective assemblies, one could not help but be reminded of the controversies that still surround how these assemblies were formed. One can only hope that all this legislative power, now secured, will not be abused.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

April 24, 2024

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