Dawn Editorial 4th August 2023

Road to peace

IT is a time of transition in the subcontinent, as general elections will throw up the next dispensation. Only a few days remain for the Pakistani government’s tenure to end, with caretakers shortly taking over and paving the way for general elections and a new administration. Meanwhile, India goes to the polls next year.

The changing situation presents an opportunity for new administrations in both states to restart the peace process. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif set the tone for better ties when, speaking at an event in Islamabad on Tuesday, he said that war was no longer an option with our “neighbour”, a thinly veiled reference to India.

Mr Sharif added that “abnormalities” cannot be removed in the bilateral relationship unless “serious issues are … addressed through peaceful and meaningful discussions”.

With the curtain falling on the PDM government, the next dispensation, whether it consists of old faces or new, should carry forward these “meaningful discussions”, with the hope that it will find a responsive partner in New Delhi.

Bilateral relations have been in deep freeze since India controversially revoked held Kashmir’s special constitutional status four years ago. To be fair, attempts have been made by the outgoing administration to mend ties with India. But the response from our eastern neighbour has been the repetition of the ‘do more’ mantra where militancy is concerned.

This is despite the fact that Indian officials themselves have admitted that cross-border infiltration is down, while the LoC remains largely quiet, especially after the ceasefire was revived in 2021. Therefore, the impression is that the Modi administration is not serious about peace with Pakistan, and wants to burnish its credentials amongst its rabid support base by appearing tough on Islamabad.

But while the Sangh Parivar may dream about ‘Akhand Bharat’ and re-establishing ancient India’s supposed glory through the sword, saner minds across the border have counselled restraint. For example, former Indian army chief retired Gen M.M. Naravane warned against a “two-front war” pitting India against Pakistan and China, while calling for a diplomatic solution to disputes.

The months ahead will show how strong the desire for peace is on both sides. While common friends — the US, European states, the Gulf countries — can help facilitate talks, Pakistan and India will have to do the heavy lifting themselves if they are to achieve a breakthrough.

In Pakistan, the new civilian government, as well as the gentlemen in Rawalpindi, will both need to endorse a fresh peace proposal. Meanwhile in India, whether the BJP returns or the INDIA alliance manages to trounce the Hindu nationalist juggernaut, the new dispensation should respond in earnest to Pakistan’s peace overtures. Once the election dust settles in both countries, back-channel talks can get the ball rolling.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2023

Borrowing heavily

THE government’s desire to find ways around the long-standing reforms agenda and frequent deviations from previous IMF programme goals for political reasons is imposing unbearable costs on the nation’s budget and debt sustainability. The country’s total debt soared by 23.3pc to Rs59tr, with domestic debt rising by 19.2pc to Rs37tr during the July-May period of the last fiscal as the government borrowed extensively to cover the gap between its expenditure and tax revenues. Simultaneously, the hefty increase in interest rates to contain inflation and the current account deficit has also jacked up debt-servicing costs exponentially during FY24 by 85pc to Rs7.3tr — or slightly more than half of the total budget outlay of Rs14.46tr for the fiscal — from last year. No wonder the government borrowed Rs500bn from the banks in the first three weeks of the year to July 21 compared to Rs120bn from a year ago, to pay off loans and meet its budget expenditure, according to the State Bank. Another recent report said the government has to borrow more than Rs11tr during the first quarter to make payments of its domestic debt coming due as it is unable to generate enough tax or non-tax revenues to meet its debt-servicing obligations.

The soaring debt-servicing costs are not only putting pressure on the budget and forcing the government to squeeze development spending but also crowding out the private sector from the credit market. Private credit dropped by around 88pc in the last fiscal to just Rs211bn. The unwillingness of the government to effectively tax the undertaxed but large segments of the economy — retail, agriculture income and real estate — has left it with no choice but to borrow left, right and centre to meet its debt obligations and finance its huge fiscal deficit of nearly 7pc. There is consensus among economic analysts that the debt burden wouldn’t have grown so much had the government continued on the path laid for it by the IMF and steadfastly implemented reforms to improve the tax-to-GDP ratio — one of the lowest in the world — cut down on unnecessary expenditures and staunched the massive resource haemorrhaging caused by loss-making businesses in the public sector. All is still not lost and the situation can still be salvaged over the next few years provided the reforms agenda is resolutely pursued.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2023

Human rights policy

IT is unfortunate that our human rights legislation appears more aspirational than practical. The Sindh government’s progressive and inclusive laws, such as The Sindh Protection of Human Rights Act, 2011, The Sindh Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Act, 2013, Domestic Violence (Preventation & Protection) Act, 2013, Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Act, 2015 and others, have a profound presence on paper but none in spirit; they fail to protect the people from abuse and exploitation. Hence, one can’t help but view the province’s human rights policy, approved by the provincial cabinet on Wednesday, as another promise destined for oblivion. The policy is in step with the times as it focuses on political, economic, civil, cultural and social rights, including civil liberties of women, children, minorities, differentlyabled people, senior citizens and transgender persons. It will be subject to review every five years to keep pace with international changes and the human rights context of the province.

But despite weighty decrees, according to the Sindh Human Rights Commission’s annual report released early this year, as many as 738 human rights violations occurred in Sindh during 2021 to 2022. Regrettably, successive regimes have seen human rights as handouts to be delivered at will, and the approach is reflected in all strata and spheres of society as well as in a labyrinthine legal system. This mindset has resulted in the dearth of robust social development structures that provide awareness and implementation of legal measures. On the other end, failure to enforce the law is rooted in the ideal of ethical pluralism sans governance that prioritises rescue and well-being. Lastly, Sindh’s admission of falling short on deliverance is pivotal to instituting mass regard for human rights — and set its own mindset, therefore freedoms, on the right path. It must also seek legitimate ways to thwart obstacles — including those who hinder criminalising forced conversions — to advance safety.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2023

About The CSS Point

The CSS Point is the Pakistan 1st Free Online platform for all CSS aspirants. We provide FREE Books, Notes and Current Affairs Magazines for all CSS Aspirants.

The CSS Point - The Best Place for All CSS Aspirants

September 2023
Template Design © The CSS Point. All rights reserved.