Dawn Editorial 8 January 2020

Legislation on COAS’s tenure

AFTER a series of missteps, assertions, denials and general confusion that extended over several months, the issue of the army chief’s tenure should, in all probability, be laid to rest today in the Senate. In fact, the National Assembly yesterday passed three bills that regulate the tenures of not only the army, but all the services’ chiefs. It is now for the upper house to pass the proposed legislation. Following the president’s assent — a mere formality — the bills will become law, as per the constitutionally mandated procedure. However, adherence to procedure is not the end-all and be-all in a democratic system. In this crucial matter, the people’s representatives have been remiss in their duty to those whose votes have put them in parliament, for they have been unforthcoming, even cagey, about the rationale behind their unquestioning support for the legislation.
For one, there is the question of timing. Why did the legislators not wait for the outcome of the judicial review requested by the government against the Supreme Court judgement pertaining to army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s tenure, which directed parliament to regulate the terms and conditions of the COAS’s office? What motivated the National Assembly, led by a government that obviously did not agree with the court’s logic, to rush into this exercise regardless? Furthermore, the government’s ill-fated notification in August about Gen Bajwa’s extension had given the “regional security environment” as the justification for its decision to retain him as army chief for another three years. Was that even a substantive factor in the legislators’ decision to pass the bills? We do not know, because notwithstanding a few dissenting voices, there was no debate on the issue. Instead, a discord-ridden parliament that drags its feet on important legislation when it chooses, seems to have effortlessly found itself ‘on the same page’ this time around. The opposition, which had initially objected to the “undue haste” with which the process was being conducted, meekly surrendered, taking back even the few amendments it had proposed in the bills. One of them, that the parliamentary committee on national security be assigned a role in the reappointment of the services chiefs and chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, was particularly worth considering. A more broad-based civilian input in such decisions could have prevented the impression of a prime minister acting on a whim or out of personal compulsions.
With its blunderbuss approach to the question of Gen Bajwa’s extension, which the ISPR has more than once asserted he was reluctant to accept, the PTI government dragged the military into a needless controversy. It can now heave a sigh of relief that the matter has resolved itself without a murmur of resistance in parliament. Sadly, the argument that institution-building is the best strategy for a stronger Pakistan has been indefinitely deferred.


SBP report

THE first detailed report of the State Bank on the economy in the first quarter of the ongoing fiscal year has just been released and it paints a disquieting picture of the developments it covers. The headline item in the report is the State Bank’s assertion that the economy is unlikely to meet the GDP growth target of 4pc by the end of the fiscal year. On the face of it, this is not a thunderous announcement, especially since much of it has already been noted by the IMF and the Asian Development Bank. But coming from the State Bank, it carries additional weight; after all, it is a Pakistani institution that is adding its voice to the growing chorus of scepticism over this target. It is important to keep this in mind, because many of the other projections that the government is counting on, principally on the revenue side, depend on this target. An acknowledgement that the overall slowdown in the economy is set to persist is significant, and unless the second quarter sees some real green shoots of recovery, there is little reason to doubt what the State Bank is pointing out. Needless to say, all indicators thus far confirm that the second quarter has seen no meaningful uptick in the pace of economic activity.
Alongside this, the bank also stands by its inflation forecast, saying average monthly inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index will remain within 11pc-12pc by the year end. This forecast could be challenged, given the large fuel and power price increases that have just been, or are about to be, passed through. Monthly average inflation is already hovering near the upper limit of this forecast, at 11.8pc, and further pressures might push it to breach the ceiling. How the government manages to keep this pressure in place, while actively trying to quicken the pace of economic growth in the remaining months of the fiscal year, is not yet clear. Additionally, a detailed reading of the report shows that the fiscal indicators may well have become better, but much of this improvement has been achieved through price increases in power and fuel, from where a large portion of the incremental tax collection has come. Given the details revealed in the report, it is unlikely that stabilisation efforts are going to end anytime soon.


A case of exploding egos?

THE raid on Maktaba-i-Daniyal is as disturbing as it is baffling. Indeed, the truth could not be any stranger than the fiction in the pages of Mohammed Hanif’s own tragicomedies.
Late last year, the publisher released the Urdu translation of Mr Hanif’s debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a satirical account of the last days of Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule and the aftermath of his death.
On Monday, according to the author’s statements on Twitter, some individuals claiming to be from the intelligence barged into the publisher’s office, confiscated all copies of the book and said they would return for a list of its distributors.
Read: Author Mohammed Hanif says Urdu publisher of his bestseller raided
A week prior, the author wrote, they had received a defamation notice from the late general’s son over the 11-year-old novel.
Such retrospective umbrage — that, too, for a work of art that makes no pretence of masquerading as fact (and, ergo, is not libellous) — might be interpreted in a number of ways, none of which are flattering to the belligerents.
Mr Hanif, a Sitara-i-Imtiaz recipient, is an internationally renowned writer and journalist whose work stands on its own merit.
Phat’tay Aamon Ka Case would have surely enjoyed modest success without the gauche intervention of ‘well-meaning’ individuals seeking to provide it free publicity, particularly given that its contents include plenty of intrigue as it is.
If, however, certain elements have taken it upon themselves to serve as Pakistan’s literary police, one can only wonder what they might make of other famous texts.
Would these exalted critics read novels like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as cautionary tales or as instruction manuals? Or Kafka’s The Trial as a template for obscuring the state’s machinery from scrutiny and accountability?
In the absence of clarity from the authorities, a pessimist might view a raid on a publisher’s office in a far more sinister light: a sign of growing intolerance, perhaps, or an attempt to whitewash opinion of Pakistan’s most vulnerable demographic — the disgraced dictator.


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