Dawn Editorial 9th May 2024

Visa fraud

THE FIA has a new task at hand: cracking down on fraudulent work visas. This was prompted by the discovery of a Pakistani human smugglingnetwork in Romania, which arranged for migrants to enter the EU through such means. The smugglers not only facilitated illegal entry into the EU but also the migrants’ further clandestine movement towards more affluent European nations, exploiting their hopes for a better life. The criminal network requested 509 work permits, successfully acquiring 102, and generating illicit profits exceeding a million euros. The FIA is broadening its focus from traditional sea and land routes to include air routes through Central Asia. Smugglers now use these air pathways alongside the earlier routes from Quetta through Iran, Turkey, and Greece, charging exorbitant rates to transport individuals into Europe. The urgency to address this menace has never been clearer. The government recently organised a conference in Islamabad in collaboration with international bodies to discuss human smuggling. However, this initiative must be part of a broader, more comprehensive strategy to tackle the issue.

The socioeconomic drivers of migration — unemployment, poverty, and lack of security — must be addressed. Traditional pressures and the aspiration to uplift one’s familial and social standing also contribute significantly to this risky endeavour. Treating these individuals as criminals rather than victims of exploitation only exacerbates their plight. It is vital to shift this perspective and see them as victims of broader systemic failures. The state’s role should be protective and proactive, not merely punitive. Enhanced legal frameworks, increased support for economic development in migration-prone regions, and eradication of corruption in migration processes are crucial. Additionally, enhancing the capacity and integrity of the FIA and related institutions is essential to ensure that these measures are not just temporary fixes but part of a long-term solution. International collaboration should also be harnessed to improve border management and dismantle smuggling networks effectively.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

A fresh approach?

SUCCESSIVE governments have tried to address the problems of Balochistan — particularly the province’s precarious law and order situation — with very little success. On Tuesday, President Asif Zardari, during a visit to Quetta, made a fresh attempt to tackle the issues of this tortured land. The president, while presiding over a meeting with top federal and provincial officials, reiterated the need for ‘dialogue’ between all political forces in Balochistan, while also calling for efforts to address its socioeconomic and law and order issues. A similar attempt was made by Mr Zardari and his party the last time he was in the presidency through the 2009 Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package which was, at least on paper, a thorough plan designed to deal with many of the issues that have contributed to alienation in Balochistan. But today, nearly 15 years after the package was announced, separatist violence continues in Balochistan, as the underlying discontent has not been addressed. Other elected governments thereafter also announced various packages and schemes for the province, yet Balochistan’s problems remain unresolved.

Unless the key factors that fuel violence and alienation in Balochistan are addressed, this vicious trend will continue. The president is right to suggest dialogue as a way out of the quagmire. But this dialogue must be meaningful, and powerful quarters within the state apparatus need to be on board for it to succeed. On the political front, instead of patronising ‘influentials’ and those seen to be loyal to the official narrative, popular leaders should be given the space and freedom to operate. The detestable practice of enforced disappearances must be ended permanently, and those suspected of breaking the law produced in court so that their fundamental rights are protected. Where socioeconomic issues are concerned, locals have the first right to the province’s resources, as well as to jobs and training. Moreover, the province’s dismal health and education indicators need to be vastly improved. This would require the state’s attention and investment in the social sector. Unfortunately, for decades, the centre has applied colonial methods to ‘tame’ Balochistan. These have included carrots — such as ‘packages’ for the province and support for sardars and feudals loyal to the powers that be — as well as sticks — such as frequent security operations. To permanently end the insurgency and bring peace to Balochistan, a democratic approach is required.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

May 9 fallout

A YEAR since the events of May 9, 2023, very little appears to have changed, at least from the political perspective.

In fact, there seems to be even more bad blood between the PTI and the security establishment; both sides appear unwilling to reconsider the combative stance they have taken towards each other.

In a press conference on Tuesday, the military’s spokesperson made it clear there would be no moving forward without a sincere apology from the PTI and a public disavowal of “the politics of anarchy and hate”. In response, the PTI denounced the statement as a “pack of lies” that was “full of contradictions”.

It cannot be denied that the violence directed at military symbols and installations in several parts of the country on this day last year, was a direct consequence of the narrative built by the PTI following its ouster.

The party had spent months framing the possibility of its chief’s arrest as a ‘red line’, all the while blaming and shaming the security establishment for its ouster from government in April 2022. This combustible mix, triggered by the controversial arrest of Imran Khan by Rangers personnel from the premises of the Islamabad High Court, exploded in the form of unprecedented, widespread violence by PTI supporters.

The PTI should acknowledge that it acted in an extremely irresponsible manner by leading its supporters towards such an unacceptable reaction. Thousands were targeted in reprisals by the state, and the events of the day accelerated the expansion of unelected forces’ influence in the state’s legislative and administrative apparatus.

However, the state, too, is not without blame. Rather than acting with restraint and demonstrating that it was only interested in getting justice for the wrong that it had been caused, it responded with extreme measures that seemed to have been taken from the playbooks of past dictatorships.

For example, in seeking ‘justice’ for PTI supporters’ defacement of various installations, the homes of countless civilian suspects were raided and vandalised and their residents allegedly harassed by personnel representing the state. Even women prisoners, who otherwise enjoy special protections and concessions under Pakistan’s legal system, were repeatedly denied their right to bail and kept incarcerated without trial in scores of dubious cases.

The PTI-military stand-off has been the root cause of Pakistan’s political instability. Since neither side seems interested in a resolution, perhaps the government should step in. It can offer its best resources to prosecute the May 9 cases in civilian courts, thereby ensuring a transparent judicial process.

Done fairly, this will prevent the two sides from engaging directly with each other, which only seems to be perpetuating the tensions between them. It is important that this chapter be closed satisfactorily so that the nation can move forward.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

May 17, 2024

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