Dawn Editorial 6 December 2019

An odd settlement

THE whole affair of the UK’s National Crime Agency coming to a settlement with Malik Riaz and his family is raising new and important questions each day.
It is clear that some sort of a confidential deal has been struck between the property developer and the NCA, and that the funds frozen in the UK totalling £190m are to be returned to “the state of Pakistan”. What is not clear is the role that the Pakistani government has played in all of this, and what is even more puzzling is the manner in which the government has behaved in the days following the announcement of the settlement.
The case is a success story of precisely the sort that Imran Khan has been promising for years. The amount is substantial and the NCA said the freezing orders were issued because the funds and property are “suspected to have derived from bribery and corruption”. Malik Riaz chose to settle rather than contest these suspicions, and the settlement certainly is a civil matter and not a criminal one. But it is still significant, and more than a little odd considering that he would rather part with £190m than go to the trouble of explaining how he acquired the money.
This is by far a huge success for the government and its Asset Recovery Unit, headed by Shahzad Akbar. So why did the government choose to remain silent about the whole affair?
It took some prodding and two full days before Mr Akbar even addressed the matter at a press conference, and even then he spent little more than a few minutes on it, saying he is prevented by certain confidentiality clauses from disclosing more details. That did not stop him from telling the press corps, however, that the recovered funds will indeed be used to pay Malik Riaz’s liability in the fine imposed upon him in the Supreme Court judgement, and that the government has “asked the court” to give the funds to the federal, instead of the Sindh, government. The order issued by the implementation bench indicates that the money from the fine should be given to the Sindh government.
The whole affair now demands more answers.
Allowing the money to be used to pay Mr Riaz’s fine is tantamount to giving it back to him. If the funds were indeed frozen because there was suspicion of them being the products of bribery and corruption in Pakistan, then the settlement means that the funds belong to the people of Pakistan and should not be allowed to be used to pay any fines imposed on Mr Riaz by the Supreme Court. If the government is a party to the settlement, as Mr Akbar seemed to say on Thursday, then we need to know whether the government consented to this arrangement.


Jalalabad attack

AS a final peace deal between the Afghan Taliban and the Americans has yet to be clinched, the chaos in Afghanistan — and the ungoverned spaces that are created due to it — has given sanctuary to a new breed of even more violent actors. The US-backed government in Kabul has a tenuous hold on governance, which means areas not under state control are either run by the Taliban, or elements associated with the militant Islamic State group. The brutal killing of a Japanese doctor in the eastern city of Jalalabad, along with five Afghans, shows that unless a comprehensive peace deal is signed soon, territories outside the remit of both Kabul and the Taliban will be used by terrorist groups to wreak havoc. Tetsu Nakamura — the slain doctor and aid worker — had worked to help Afghanistan’s long-suffering people since the 1980s; he was earlier based out of Peshawar and inside Afghanistan itself. The Taliban, who are no strangers to violence, denied any role in the doctor’s killing, saying they do not target those who “contributed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan”. Nangarhar, where Jalalabad is located, has been a hotbed of activity for IS militants, which means elements linked to the terrorist outfit may have been involved in the atrocity.
Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had said his government had “obliterated” IS in Afghanistan, as hundreds of IS militants laid down arms before the state. The Taliban mocked Kabul’s claim, saying it was they who had put IS on the back foot in the region. This series of events illustrates a strange situation in Afghanistan; the Afghan government as well as the Taliban have no love for IS and both claim to be fighting the self-styled caliphate. However, both Kabul and the Talibs are also sworn enemies, with the Taliban looking at Mr Ghani’s government with disdain, labelling them American ‘puppets’. Indeed, considering the circumstances, a peace deal in Afghanistan that brings together all the country’s factions and ethnic groups is the need of the hour. US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was recently in Kabul to kick-start peace talks with the Taliban. The Americans, Kabul, as well as the Taliban must realise that the biggest threat to peace in Afghanistan, and indeed, the region is IS. Therefore, instead of working at cross purposes, they need to combine their energies to defeat the group, which is in search of territory after its rout in the Levant.


Jirga ‘justice’

RARELY does a day go by without news of horrific abuse inflicted upon the women and children of this land. Daily newspapers are filled with reports of ‘honour’ killing, domestic abuse, rape, harassment, revenge porn, paedophilia, kidnapping, forced marriage, and so on. Such violence perpetrated on marginalised groups seems to have become so common that it barely causes a stir in the public conscience. However, the alleged details of a recent case were so gruesome that they caused mass outrage among social media users. Some two weeks ago, a young girl was hastily buried under mysterious circumstances in a small town close to Dadu. Because of a local newspaper report, rumours started circulating that nine-year-old Gul Sama had been declared ‘kari’ (adulteress) by her parents, and was brutally stoned to death on the instructions of a local jirga. Her father refuted the claim, insisting his daughter had been killed in an avalanche of rocks from the nearby hills. But police were not convinced. Two days ago, the child’s body was exhumed from a graveyard in order to conduct medical tests. The marks and deep injuries on Gul Sama’s neck, face, nose, head and torso pointed to death by heavy objects. If the worst is confirmed, one would be at a loss for words. How could a child be accused of adultery? While the mother has now been released, the father and a maulvi are still under investigation.
Even as we wait for a clearer picture, it is a disturbing reality that certain tribal practices in the form of jirgas continue to be at odds with the Constitution. At the beginning of this year, the Supreme Court pointed out that jirgas and panchayats were in violation of many international treaties Pakistan is bound to, yet they are tolerated under the pretext of speedy justice. More often than not, the jirga institutionalises the oppression of women and girls it treats as property. It is time to outlaw such barbarism in the name of culture and expediency.


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