Dawn Editorial 9 January 2021

Ruet chief’s decision

WHILE the sighting of the moon for every new Hijri month in Pakistan is usually a quiet affair, when it comes to spotting the crescent for Ramazan and Shawwal, controversies are common. For example, there have been years when three Eids have been celebrated in the country. While the central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee — officially tasked with the duty of moon-spotting — says one thing, clerics of other self-appointed ‘committees’ often disagree, which results in varying dates for religious occasions. Though this problem has persisted for decades, a solution may be in sight, as the newly appointed head of the moon-sighting committee says he is willing to use scientific methods “within the limits of Sharia” to spot the crescent. Maulana Abdul Khabir, who recently replaced long-time Ruet chief Mufti Muneebur Rehman, said this on Thursday after meeting Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry. Mr Chaudhry and the previous Ruet chief, along with other clerics, had very publicly disagreed over introducing scientific methods to augment the religious duty of moon-sighting, with the men of the cloth telling the minister to keep out of religious matters.
While hardliners will likely dismiss the new Ruet chief’s efforts to harmonise faith and science, the move is surely a good omen. Credit should be given to Mr Chaudhry for standing his ground over the matter, while Maulana Abdul Khabir has also shown that modern methods can complement religious requirements. Some overzealous clerics in the past have ‘spotted’ the moon when there was absolutely no chance of it appearing on the horizon scientifically, while others have decided to follow Saudi Arabia in the matter, which is an equally confusing solution considering the difference in time and geographical distance between the two countries. To prevent such farcical situations from arising again, clerics should be encouraged to work with the ministry in order to ensure that the nation observes Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha on the same day countrywide, though some elements are likely to cling to their own outdated notions.



Loss of livelihoods

A SPECIAL survey carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts of the coronavirus crisis on the wellbeing of the country’s citizens is the first such attempt by any government agency to methodically assess the pandemic’s effects on households, both urban and rural. Though the complete findings of the survey are yet to be released, the exercise is understood to have tried to measure the negative effects of Covid-19 on jobs, incomes, remittances, food security and health. The PBS survey has also collected information about the assets held by households to compile wealth quintiles.
The Planning Commission of Pakistan on Thursday released some details about the impact of the pandemic on employment that it believes supports the government claims of V-shaped economic recovery from the first wave of the virus outbreak, holding back the rest of the survey findings for a later release. According to the information made public so far, nearly 20.8m people — forming nearly 37.2pc of the country’s total labour force consisting of 55.7m workers — suffered livelihood losses due to the shutdown of businesses and mobility restrictions enforced between April and June 2020 to halt the spread of the virus outbreak. A large majority of them — about 85pc — have since returned to work once lockdowns were lifted and the economy reopened in the wake of declining infections from their June peak. Yet a significantly large number of 3.2mn workers appear to have lost their jobs for a much longer period — if not permanently. In other words, a little less than 6pc of the total workforce — in the age group of 10 years old and above — is looking for work since the “recovery process from the impact of the plague started back in July”.
Indeed, the economy is showing some signs of recovery, no matter how fragile, since the inception of the present fiscal year. But the subdued growth prospects for FY2021 — projected to be in the range of 0.5pc to 2pc — mean that the economy is unlikely to create enough employment opportunities in the near- to medium-term to absorb the daily wage and contract/casual labour forming the vast majority of out-of-work manpower. The government is pinning a lot of hope on the revival of the construction industry to create new jobs over the next few months. Nonetheless, these hopes appear to be exaggerated in spite of a generous incentive package and tax amnesty given to the builders, developers and buyers. The intensity of the second wave of the pandemic now sweeping across most countries is also being seen by many, including the State Bank of Pakistan, as a potential threat to current recovery. If it does adversely impact what little recovery was made since last July, we may see more job losses, especially in the informal services sector and in small- to medium-sized industrial enterprises on a permanent basis.



Police violence

THE removal of the IGP Islamabad is but total eyewash — a lame attempt to cover up the alleged murder of Osama Satti by the capital police in cold blood and cool down mounting public anger over police excesses.
The sincerity of the authorities to conduct a transparent inquiry into the incident and punish those policemen who were involved in the killing was exposed the moment the record of the case was ‘sealed’ to hide the glaring contradictions in different accounts of what actually transpired on Kashmir Highway last weekend. Initial accounts allegedly show that Satti was shot dead after the counterterrorism police had him pull over his car.
In a country where rights activists, journalists, political workers and others go missing every other day — in several cases, only to eventually be discovered dead — the murder of young Satti, who the police claim had a prior criminal record, is anything but an aberration. It is not for the first time that the police have killed someone, innocent or not. They are notorious for ‘wiping out’ suspects in custody as well as in staged shootouts. Sadly, successive governments have endorsed this gruesome practice of fighting crime by looking the other way and, in many cases, rewarding the practitioners of this strategy.
Take the example of the infamous ‘encounter specialist’ Rao Anwar. Backed by all-powerful spy agencies and politicians, he rose rapidly through the ranks for allegedly killing more than 400 people in the course of his career — most notably his alleged involvement in the staged encounter killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in January 2018. Likewise, the Sahiwal counterterrorism police gunning down three family members — husband, wife and their 13-year-old daughter — and their friend in January 2019 is a memory that is still fresh in the minds of the people. The way in which the survivors and families of the deceased were brought under pressure to keep them from pursuing the case against the suspected policemen, and the manner in which their release was managed by the state, reflect how deep the rot has already gone.
Satti’s killing will test Prime Minister Imran Khan government’s commitment to reforming law enforcement in the country. So far, it hasn’t betrayed signs of any such plan. It had failed the victims’ families and the public in the Sahiwal case. Its failure now to transparently investigate Osama Satti’s killing and punish the policemen involved will further disillusion citizens.

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