Dawn Editorial 7th May 2024

Wheat investigation

THE Shehbaz Sharif government is in a sort of Catch-22 situation regarding the alleged wheat import scandal. It is conducting an official inquiry into the large and reckless wheat imports allowed by the caretaker administration of Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, but is reluctant to look too deep into the scandal in case it is compelled to take action against those who were ruling at the time. However, not everyone within the ruling PML-N agrees with this strategy of the government in Islamabad. A report in this paper last week suggested that PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif wants the federal government to take action against everyone involved in the scandal, without regard for their ‘political clout’, and to refer the matter to NAB or the FIA for investigation to fix responsibility. The reason is obvious: the PML-N leader does not want the debris of the scandal to collapse on his party’s government in Punjab, which is being targeted by farmers for failing to commence official grain purchases in spite of the commodity’s plunging price in the market amid a record harvest.

With the farmers all set to launch a province-wise protest campaign against delays in wheat procurement and the commodity’s plummeting prices on Friday, it is important for the prime minister to broaden the scope of the ongoing inquiry even if he does not wish to involve any anti-corruption agency. A thorough inquiry is vital because the reluctance to dig deeper into the issue is creating suspicions that the decision to allow heavy grain imports was driven by corrupt motives. Thus, it is crucial for the committee probing the issue to determine if the decision to allow imports was based on economic reasons or incompetence or some other factor, and fix responsibility. If nothing else, the decision has caused an outflow of more than a billion dollars at a time when this cash-strapped country needs to save every single dollar. Indeed, it is not an easy place for the government that is trying to tread this road very carefully. But now that it has started the probe, it has no option but to finish the job in an impartial and transparent manner. If the caretakers have nothing to hide, the government should not be worried about upsetting anyone. Alternatively, it should be prepared to bear the political fallout of the scandal.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2024


Impending slaughter

RAFAH, the last shelter for Gaza’s hapless people, is about to face the wrath of the Israeli war machine. There had long been talk of Tel Aviv unleashing murderous force on the southern town on the Egyptian border after the devastation of the rest of Gaza. But now, as peace talks involving Hamas, the Israelis, and Arab interlocutors appear to be deadlocked, the Zionist state is set to unleash another round of butchery in order to ‘finish’ Hamas.

According to media reports, Israel has ordered civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate, while Tel Aviv has apparently moved several brigades close to Rafah, which is crammed with around 1.5m people. Israel and the US have disingenuously blamed the Palestinians for the breakdown in truce talks, but it is clear that Tel Aviv was never negotiating in good faith. While Hamas wanted a long-term ceasefire, Israel insisted on a temporary truce to rescue its hostages held in Gaza, and refused to rule out the Rafah offensive. Though voices from around the world — including calls from the UN secretary-general and the EU leadership — have advised Israel not to attack Rafah, no one in Tel Aviv appears to be listening.

Meanwhile, the Muslim world’s leadership has played its part by issuing a strongly worded statement following the OIC summit, held over the weekend, in Gambia. As per the Banjul Declaration, the OIC states have called upon “the countries of the world to take action to stop … the genocide committed by the Israeli occupation” in Gaza. Yet the Muslim world’s leaders have done little of substance themselves — even symbolically — to punish Israel for its monstrous crime. Regardless of the economic clout and hydrocarbon riches of many OIC members, Muslim states have not even been able to enforce a trade and energy boycott of Israel and all those that provide it with arms and funds to slaughter the Palestinians.

On the other hand, states in faraway Latin America, including Bolivia and Colombia, have snapped ties with Tel Aviv over its murderous campaign. These states, as well as South Africa, have no religious or cultural ties with Palestine, yet have expressed exemplary solidarity with Gaza, while most Muslim states have limited themselves to issuing verbose statements calling for an end to the violence.

Seven months into the slaughter, there are no signs of hope. In fact, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said the Rafah invasion would be the “final nail in the coffin” for humanitarian activities in Gaza. From the looks of it, Israel will not rest until the entire Middle East is in flames. If and when that dark omen comes to pass, the self-professed guardians of the ‘international rules-based order’ will have no one to blame but themselves and their Israeli allies.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2024


Reserved seats

T is usually best not to presume, but given recent developments, one may tentatively hope that the judiciary has finally woken up to the controversies surrounding the general election. Following a series of widely criticised decisions from the Election Commission of Pakistan — each of which, it seems, distorted or subverted the public mandate — the judiciary has finally checked the electoral body for exercising arbitrary control over the democratic process.

A three-member bench of the Supreme Court admitted a petition this Monday against an ECP decision to give various political parties more reserved seats than they were lawfully entitled to, suspending the decision till further notice. The petition in question was moved by the Sunni Ittehad Council, which has been arguing that the ECP and Peshawar High Court’s denial of its right to a total of 78 reserved seats in various assemblies was unlawful and must, therefore, be reviewed by the apex court.

From the interim order issued by the Supreme Court, it appears that the judges who heard the petition were not inclined to agree with the government and the ECP’s logic regarding why the 78 reserved seats denied to the SIC should be allotted to other parties. During proceedings, the court observed that this decision appeared to have distorted the public’s mandate. Since there was no legal precedent or clear justification for the ECP’s decision, it was agreed that the question would require a constitutional interpretation.

The matter has consequently been remanded to the apex committee of the Supreme Court for the formation of a larger bench. Till the case is decided, the interim order also, in effect, scuppered any government plans to start tinkering with the Constitution thanks to the two-thirds majority it had secured in the Lower House due to the ECP’s decision. This may be for the best.

One of the other big questions at the moment is what is to be made of the Senate elections held recently, in which the lawmakers who currently occupy the challenged seats also voted. In case the Supreme Court strikes down the ECP’s decision, would that mean that the Senate election could be challenged on related grounds? This could prove to be a major headache for the government, as it would further undermine its already questionable legitimacy. If such a situation comes to pass, those affected will only have the ECP to blame.

The truth is that the entire process — from polls, announcement of results, formation of assemblies and elections to the Senate — has been mishandled. The electoral watchdog has been so busy finding faults in and imposing penalties on one party that it has been unable to reflect on the many disasters it has wrought in the process. It should deal with the consequences itself.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2024

May 17, 2024

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