DAWN Editorials – 12th Dec 2022

Child trafficking

WHAT does it say about our child protection laws and other relevant legislation when a 14-year-old girl is abducted and sold thrice before being able to escape her captors and return home? Her ordeal indicates — as the court correctly pointed out — that kidnapping gangs are operating with total impunity. Further horrifying details emerged in the victim’s statement to the Sindh High Court on Friday. She said she had seen around 15 teenage girls at the house of one of those accused of her kidnapping. The court, while hearing the bail plea of another suspect booked for allegedly abducting the underage girl to force her into marriage, has directed the interior ministry to form a JIT to thoroughly investigate the issue of child trafficking. It is about time the criminal justice system came to grips with the terrible things happening to our minors and took proactive steps to prevent these crimes and support the victims. Therefore, it is encouraging that despite the girl in the case at hand not having made an allegation of forced marriage or rape, the court has held that further investigation is warranted.

It has been seen in far too many cases of alleged child abduction and forced marriage of minors that courts do not probe deep enough to ascertain the truth, leaving the victims vulnerable to further abuse and sexual exploitation. In the earlier stages of the Dua Zehra case, for instance, despite her parents providing verifiable evidence of their daughter being underage, a magistrate in Lahore accepted her statement that she was an adult and allowed her to go with her ‘husband’. An HRCP report published this year describes Pakistan as a “source, transit and destination country for trafficking”. This appears to be no exaggeration. Consider that in February 2022, Punjab police stated that 151 girls and young women, all abducted from Sargodha, had been recovered from various parts of the province since Jan 5 alone. It is not enough to legislate: implementation is key.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2022


Failing confidence

THE results of a recent business confidence survey conducted by the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry are a disquieting reminder of just how jittery key stakeholders have become due to the worsening state of the economy. The OICCI’s Business Confidence Score, computed through a countrywide survey, has plunged to negative 4pc from 17pc recorded in March and April. The steep drop has been termed “regrettable, but not surprising” by OICCI president Ghias Khan, who attributes it to “the highly challenging political and economic situation” in the months between the two surveys. Mr Khan cited “high inflation, increased fuel prices and significant currency devaluation” as well as the floods which inundated large parts of the country following this year’s monsoon season as factors that have greatly disrupted economic activity. Overall, more than half of all respondents expressed negative views regarding the business environment over the past six months, and only 2pc had any positive expectations for the next six. It appears from the survey results that it is only a tiny fraction of business leaders in the manufacturing sector who still have hope for a near-term improvement in the economy. On the other hand, the outlook presented by those working in the services and retail and wholesale sectors is overwhelmingly negative. Foreign investors sampled in the survey expressed a confidence level of only 6pc compared to 33pc when the previous survey was conducted. The three biggest challenges identified were inflation, high taxation and currency devaluation. Other key findings indicate that businesses may be considering shelving expansion and investment plans and curbing new hiring.

Confidence surveys are usually reliable indicators of the direction business activity can be expected to take in the near future. Based on the results of this survey, the outlook appears to be quite dire. Unfortunately, the government has either already failed to address the three key concerns raised or is out of policy options to provide relief. For example, after much struggle, it seems to have given up on getting price fluctuations under control — a fact borne out by the persistence of high inflation in recent weeks and months. It also cannot compromise on taxation, as its revenue options have been sharply limited by a massive rejigging of the economy. Lastly, further currency devaluation also seems inevitable considering the pressures building up on the external account, though policymakers are resisting it for political reasons. Expect a rough ride ahead.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2022

Saarc’s future

WHILE regional groupings such as the EU and Asean have brought states — including former enemies — closer, this formula has not worked in South Asia. In fact, this region is often described as one of the least integrated in the world, and Saarc, founded nearly four decades ago, has remained a moribund forum, primarily because of the toxic nature of the Pakistan-India relationship.

In a recent tweet to mark Saarc Charter Day, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif indicated Pakistan’s resolve to revive the eight-member bloc, while ruing the “missed opportunities” linked to lack of integration. Idealistic rhetoric aside, the revival of Saarc is a tall order, but not an impossible task if all eight members, primarily Pakistan and India, wish to use the forum to improve the quality of life of the people of South Asia.

Of course, a major irritant in the revival of Saarc is India’s rigidity, especially under Narendra Modi’s watch, and its desire to isolate Pakistan internationally. It is because of this attitude that Pakistan was not able to host the 2016 Saarc summit; the last time the summit was held was in Nepal in 2014. Yet it is also true that a lack of direction on the India file in Pakistan has not helped matters.

There is little consistency where ties with India are concerned, with the civilian authorities saying one thing, and the powerful military establishment, which has an undeclared veto on all matters concerning India, going in another direction.

Moreover, political parties, when in opposition, have also blasted the government in power for wanting to trade with India. The fiasco earlier this year, when the PTI government decided to re-establish limited trade ties with India, only to take a U-turn soon after receiving criticism, is a case in point.

Where India is concerned, while many in New Delhi may feel that they don’t need Pakistan, and Indian ministers and generals make bellicose noises about ‘taking back’ Pakistani territory, the fact is that a peaceful South Asia is in everyone’s interest.

Despite poverty alleviation efforts, hundreds of millions of Indians continue to live in poverty — in fact, more than the entire population of Pakistan. Surely, if hostility recedes, resources spent on defence can be repurposed to help bring more people out of poverty.

As for Pakistan’s choices, the civilian administration and the military establishment need to be on the same page where India is cornered. Without sacrificing our core concerns, such as Kashmir and the treatment of Muslims in India, the elected leadership, supported by the military, should signal that it is ready to talk peace if India is interested.

Moreover, other Saarc members, particularly Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, can also make a greater effort to help revive the bloc and reduce the Pakistan-India hostility. A quarter of the world’s population will benefit immensely from reduced animosity, and greater connectivity.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2022

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