Dawn Editorial 6 November 2019

Bail for Maryam

THE scales of justice are finally inclined in favour of the Sharif family. Only a few days after her father was temporarily released from jail, Maryam Nawaz has also been granted bail. She was being held by NAB in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case since August.
Well-wishers of the Sharif family had been insisting that Ms Nawaz needed to be by the side of her hospitalised father. Many might have seen the petition for Ms Nawaz’s release on bail as an appeal on humanitarian grounds — in the same way that Mian Nawaz Sharif was recently given an eight-week suspension in his detention for health reasons.
However, granting her bail on Monday, the Lahore High Court made it clear that it had decided the case on its merit. The two-member bench took note of the rampant corruption in the country and stressed on the need to curb this with an ‘iron hand’. But it ruled that it “… cannot keep its eyes off the legal proposition that bail cannot be withheld as a punishment …”.
The judges observed that otherwise the court would “transgress into the power of the trial court to return its finding upon guilt on the basis of evidence”. The Lahore High Court did consider previous judgements where relief had been extended to women petitioners who had “neither absconded nor obstructed the process of law”.
The court, while giving relief to Ms Nawaz, asked her to submit her passport to the court officials — which was an anti-climax for those operating the rumour mills. The country had been abuzz with predictions that both Mr Sharif and Ms Nawaz were to ‘soon’ fly away quietly to some foreign destination. Their absence was thought essential to clear the field for the remaining PML-N leaders, their opponents and, most significantly, the ‘establishment’, to engage with one another in a way that best suited them. The rumours about the father-daughter duo’s ‘impending’ flight from the country persist, with an attending doctor saying on Tuesday that Mr Sharif needed to undergo genetic tests that can only be conducted abroad.
The news that Ms Nawaz was not setting off post-haste to a destination abroad necessitated changes in these imaginative scenarios about her departure.
In the ensuing phase, bets are being placed on whether or not Ms Nawaz is going to join Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s protest in Islamabad. There are many who expect her to celebrate her release from jail by raising a battle cry expanding on her father’s image of resistance, and as a reiteration of her promise to not compromise under adverse circumstances.
In reality, these wishes may be premature. Her uncle, Shahbaz Sharif, has been telling everyone that Ms Nawaz was needed to take care of her seriously ill father. For the time being at least, this is what she may want to concentrate on.


Student unions

THE Zia-era ban on student unions has long outlived the reasons for which it was put in place. Over the years, Pakistan’s political leadership has made hesitant attempts at revoking the ban, and reviving student politics, but its efforts have come to naught. In the latest attempt, the unanimous resolution passed by the Sindh Assembly for restoration of student unions may yet be a first step towards stirring national debate on the revival of these bodies, at least in the province. In 2008, then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced his intention to revive the unions. Two years ago, the Senate passed a resolution in this regard, stating that the right to association was granted by the Constitution. The Senate resolution also addressed the 1993 Supreme Court verdict that prohibits students from participating in political activities, and stated that the revival of unions would not be in violation of it. The senators were of the view that the murder of Mashal Khan in Mardan might have been prevented had student unions existed in the country.
In fact, over the past three decades, there have been several incidents of deadly campus violence among rival student political groups, despite the presence of paramilitary forces in some varsities. The argument that a ban on student unions will deter armed violence on campuses was disproved long ago. Instead, the overall effect of the ban has been the very opposite of what was intended. Even a cursory glance at public-sector universities shows that student wings of all political parties continue to thrive, negating the notion that the ban has kept campuses from becoming politicised. These groups wield illegitimate influence over public-sector university and college authorities, not only hampering academic independence and smooth administration, but also making it easier for other extremist elements to flex their muscles on campus. The murder of Prof Khalid Hameed in Bahawalpur by a student is an extreme example of this. Then there is the Balochistan University scandal. One wonders whether the harassment case would have progressed differently had the students been able to access a legitimate forum that could have addressed their grievances. Let’s hope that the PTI-led government, with its thrust on youth development and its large number of young supporters, takes concrete steps towards reversing the institutional damage of decades caused by the ban on unions instituted during one of Pakistan’s darkest periods.


Karkey fine

IT is a welcome development that the government has succeeded in negotiating a waiver of the fine imposed on the country in the dispute with Karkey Karadeniz, the Turkish company that had set up a rental power plant in Pakistan and that became the subject of intense judicial intervention. The amount that was awarded to Karkey by the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes was $1.2bn, a substantial sum for a country that is on an IMF programme. Having the disputed amount settled through the government’s intervention has surely helped the country.
What is worth considering here, however, is how much it took to extricate the government from the mess that was created by that judicial intervention in a set of commercial agreements. The governments of Pakistan and Turkey had to take up the matter at the highest levels — such accommodations do not usually come without some sort of quid pro quo. So if Pakistan has saved itself from being obligated to pay a fine of $1.2bn, it is hopefully because of a goodwill gesture on the part of Turkey. Moreover, the option to settle via government channels is not open in other disputes where Pakistan is facing similar fines, most notably in the case of the Reko Diq arbitration. Such extraordinary interventions are possible in limited cases, and even in those it is debatable whether they are worth the cost that they must inevitably entail. There is no substitute, in short, for a sound policy environment and enduring respect by the various pillars of state for each other’s responsibilities. In the case of the Karkey dispute, there is the real possibility that new disclosures made subsequent to the case might have played a role in helping persuade the Turkish authorities to waive the fine. But the real lesson here is that acting without solid evidence, particularly when it comes to foreign investors who enjoy certain protections, carries enormous costs for the country.

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