Dawn Editorial 6 April 2021

Electoral reforms

FEDERAL Minister Fawad Chaudhry has once again asked the opposition to cooperate with the government in order to bring about electoral reforms. He highlighted the importance of electoral reforms by saying that only by implementing them could the next elections be held in a free and fair manner so that the winner can form the next government. Speaking to the media in Lahore, the minister also reiterated that the judicial system is in a shambles and needs reforms. He argued that such reform in the judicial system can only happen if the government, the opposition and the judiciary sit together. He then emphasised that the ECP also requires reforms as was evidenced by the fact that the Senate elections as well as the Daska by-elections were marred by controversy.
The minister has a point. One of the biggest failures of Pakistan’s political system is its inability to hold credible and transparent elections. There are multiple reasons for this failure, including the heavy interference of the establishment, but the most important factor is that political parties have not been able to forge a consensus on the reforms required to safeguard against electoral malpractice. This in turn is a by-product of the acute polarisation that has become a hallmark of the country’s politics. This dangerously volatile partisanship — which often plays out at the expense of a functional relationship — is possibly the biggest hurdle that stops political stakeholders from sitting across the table and getting the work of such reforms done. It is now easy for Mr Chaudhry and his party to argue for these reforms, but the PTI conveniently forgets that it is primarily responsible for vitiating the atmosphere both inside and outside parliament. It is also a bit rich of Mr Chaudhry to claim the high moral ground on electoral reforms when he and his colleagues only a few weeks back were sitting in Daska and defending the disgraced election.
If the government is serious about initiating these reforms, and is not playing to the gallery as it has done so far, then its ministers need to move beyond press statements and initiate contact with the opposition through proper parliamentary channels. PTI leaders should realise that governments carry the responsibility of engaging the opposition in parliamentary business, and doing so requires climbing down from the high horse that PTI believes it has been riding on. Senior members from the treasury benches therefore need to make a concerted effort — sans insults and taunts — to convince the opposition to start a formal exercise of reviewing all electoral laws and aiming to reform them by consensus. This is necessary to ensure that the next general elections carry the stamp of approval from all political stakeholders. There is time available to get this task done if the government can display the seriousness that is so far missing.



Ghani’s proposal

AS questions swirl over whether or not the US will honour its commitment to withdraw foreign troops from Afghanistan by May 1, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reportedly readied a new plan to salvage the peace process. The Afghan leader’s three-step process is designed to incrementally bring down violence and spur the political process. As per details available in the media, the first step envisages a ceasefire and a political settlement; a presidential election and “government of peace” are part of step two; while building a “constitutional framework” for the war-torn country is the third and final step. As the Afghan Taliban — the primary foes of the government in Kabul — are wary of any ‘foreign’ initiatives, this peace plan may have more potential for success. The US, which backs Afghanistan’s government, is hoping some sort of deal will be reached by the Taliban and the Kabul administration at a peace conference due to take place in Turkey later this month. Meanwhile, it appears more and more difficult that Washington will ensure all foreign forces are out of Afghanistan by the beginning of May, though some say the Taliban may promise to halt attacks if the deadline is in fact extended.
Indeed, the sooner the foreign forces leave Afghanistan and let the Afghans decide their own destiny, the better it will be. However, this must be an orderly process and the US and its allies cannot just cut and run, much like the Soviets did at the end of the Afghan ‘jihad’. While the US and the Taliban had signed a peace accord in Doha last year — under which the May 1 deadline has been set — there has been no corresponding agreement among the Afghan stakeholders. The Ghani peace plan and the meeting in Turkey offer a chance for the Afghans themselves to reach an agreement. The Taliban should take advantage of the situation, and instead of dismissing the Kabul administration as foreign ‘puppets’ they must engage with it to forge a way out of the decades-long crisis that has ravaged Afghanistan. If the Taliban remain obdurate, the cycle of violence will continue, worsening the misery of the Afghan people. The Afghan government must assure all stakeholders that the peace process will pave the way for free and fair elections that will empower all Afghan tribes and ethnic and religious groups. If all sides show flexibility, Afghanistan’s long nightmare could end soon.



Controversial view

THE myth that a woman’s clothing is somehow linked to the sexual violence against her has long been debunked, but it seems the prime minister still harbours this problematic view. During a telethon where members of the public were invited to ask him questions, Imran Khan’s response to one caller was unsettling. Though Mr Khan denounced crimes against women and children, his explanation that sexual violence is somehow a product of ‘obscenity’ — which he described as a Western and an Indian import — betrayed an ill-informed understanding of a very serious issue.
Not only did Mr Khan say that the pervasiveness of obscene behaviour has contributed to these crimes, he also implied that they can somehow be prevented if women observe purdah. In his words, purdah would lessen the temptation of those who lack willpower. While he noted that society would have to evolve to better protect its women and children, his point appeared to be more about limiting government responsibility than reforming male behaviour. Mr Khan’s views on this subject are shockingly insensitive and even harmful to the women’s movement in the country.
Read: In Pakistan, rape culture is not only systemic, it is reinforced at every level
If the holder of the country’s highest office is framing the narrative of sexual violence in a way that places the responsibility of ‘doing more’ on women, it gives little hope that common citizens will espouse a broader and less misogynistic approach. If the prime minister had engaged with rights activists in the country to really understand women’s grievances, he would instantly comprehend that this mentality of equating rape with a lack of ‘modesty’ is the very manifestation of victim-blaming that women fight against.
Blaming the increasing incidence of rape on Western influence is convenient, but Mr Khan should not forget that women in the countries he blames for obscenity and high divorce rates have better protections and more freedoms than women in Pakistan. He should understand the basics of women empowerment, and acknowledge that imposing a solution is no support; the government must protect women regardless of their choices.

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