DAWN Editorials – 13th Dec 2022

Sticks and stones

AN old English rhyme teaches children, at a very early age, to shrug aside insults and not make too much of mere words. One wishes that those who walk the corridors of power in our country were taught similarly to develop a thicker skin. The manner in which Senator Azam Khan Swati is being treated for publicly expressing his anger at the former army chief and another senior security officer is a reminder of the petty vindictiveness with which our establishment sometimes operates against those who dare to cross it. His were unwise words, no doubt, but they clearly stemmed from the pain and anguish the aged and ailing senator seemed to be feeling over the shameful ordeal his family was recently put through. It must be asked what wisdom there is in putting someone who recently broke down publicly through even more stress. Is there any need for him to be parcelled off from one province to another for a tour de force of the country’s penitentiary system?

It is a shame that this is happening during the government of the PDM parties, which once went to great lengths to present themselves as the exact antithesis of the PTI. Even though Islamabad has attempted to distance itself from the series of cases being registered against Mr Swati across the country, it still has the power to put an end to this farce. A grave injustice also continues to be done to another lawmaker, Ali Wazir, in a similar fashion. Politicians must stand with each other, especially when the limits of decency are being crossed. It is time for the government to put its foot down. If these lawmakers are to be punished, they should be returned to Islamabad, and the various cases against them consolidated and taken to court. The government must realise that it is undermined when elected lawmakers — whatever their transgression may be — are treated with such contempt by what is a subordinate organ of the state.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2022

Imran’s dilemma

FORMER prime minister Imran Khan needs to give it a rest. His expectation from the armed forces that they should be ‘guiding’ the government towards an early election is quite embarrassing. It gives the impression that he has learnt little from his years in power and that any ‘regrets’ that he had about never really being in the driving seat were more an expression of unhappiness with the last chief — who seems to have let go of his hand towards the end — rather than an actual realisation that governance should always remain the exclusive domain of the politician. “I have expectations from the new set-up that the national security institutions will take into account this serious situation of the country’s economy on a downward spiral,” he said on Sunday. Why should they? The management and mitigation of economic risks is not the army’s job, even if it has, in the past, assumed that role. Mr Khan cannot and should not expect the army chief to take over this responsibility if he himself will not take any initiative.

For a political leader, all legitimacy and power flow from the court of public opinion. Given his popularity, why does Mr Khan lack confidence in his ability to negotiate a deal with his opponents, without the armed forces around to back him? It is high time Mr Khan stopped relying on powerful benefactors to get him what he desires and started putting in the elbow grease, learning how to work the democratic system and making an effort to understand its mechanics. As a public representative, his place is either in parliament or at the negotiating table, fighting to get the people he represents what they want. There are only two legitimate paths open for him at the moment. He can sit tight, refuse to negotiate, and wait till the next election comes around on schedule, or he can return to parliament, initiate a dialogue, present his case, and, through some compromise, reach a deal with the PDM over an early election. If he is so concerned that the country and the economy may be irrevocably harmed if we do not go towards an early election, Mr Khan must ask himself whether Pakistan’s welfare should be above the intense personal dislike he has for his political opponents. Perhaps it may make it easier for him to reach for the second option.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2022

Chaman clash

IF the Afghan Taliban want the world to grant them legitimacy, then they should be able to fulfil the duties of a responsible government. This includes maintaining calm at the borders, and preventing their own fighters or other militants from attacking innocent people across the frontier.

The tragic incident at the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman on Sunday indicates that either Kabul’s rulers are incapable of securing their borders, or that some elements within the Taliban want to test Pakistan’s limits.

At least seven deaths were reported on the Pakistani side after Afghan forces resorted to unprovoked shelling at the border town, says ISPR, with Pakistan’s security personnel returning fire.

The skirmish resulted in the brief closure of the border crossing, and appeared to be a repeat of a similar incident last month that resulted in the closure of the Chaman crossing for more than a week. Then, too, gunfire from Afghanistan had resulted in casualties here.

The prime minister has condemned the incident, calling upon the Afghan rulers to ensure such episodes are not repeated.

Certain reports say that smugglers were trying to cross the fenced border area into Pakistan, reportedly with support from the Taliban forces, though some Afghan officials link the flare-up to the construction of checkpoints in what they claim is Afghan territory.

Pakistan should clearly communicate to the Taliban that it is ready to defend itself from aggression.

It is unfortunate that while it is the Taliban’s responsibility to keep the peace on their soil, they have not, previously as well as now, reined in violent, lawless elements, including militants — a fact that Pakistan, which has suffered as a consequence, cannot lose sight of. It is in this context that Pakistan must display firmness, despite its support for the Afghan people.

It is the Taliban’s responsibility to restrain smugglers, terrorists and criminal elements trying to sneak into Pakistan.

Also, there should be no revanchist illusions: the Pak-Afghan border marks the frontier between two sovereign countries, and fantasies about redrawing the Durand Line must be abandoned.

Thanks to their regressive worldview, the Afghan Taliban have an image problem globally. Pakistan has nevertheless — even during the rule of the pro-West Ashraf Ghani regime — called for the international community to engage with the Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan does not implode, for the sake of its poverty-stricken people.

The Taliban need to realise this and take steps to allay Pakistan’s concerns.

Primarily, they must secure their side of the border to guarantee there is no hostile activity directed at Pakistan, while if ties become strained, they must be immediately addressed through dialogue instead of any resort to violence.

Secondly, those anti-Pakistan terrorists that have sought refuge in Afghanistan should be neutralised so that they are no longer able to harm this country.

Anything less may cause Pakistan to reassess its ties with the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2022

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