DAWN Editorials – 16th Dec 2022

Policing failures

THE blood of the innocent continues to flow in Karachi, where the police and Rangers seem to be giving muggers, murderers and all manner of criminals in between a free run as they rob the citizenry of their life, limb and property. Last Thursday, just one day in the ongoing free-for-all, a young university student was shot dead, three others were physically injured and “hundreds, if not thousands of […] cell phones, cash and other valuables” were snatched or looted from the people of this blighted city. Stretch the timeline to two weeks, and one finds that 10 innocent people (and counting) had already been deprived of their lives halfway through December due to armed robberies, while more than a dozen had been wounded during incidents of violent crime. God knows how many valuables were looted and how many actually reported to the police in that same period.

The degradation of law and order in the city would perhaps sting less for its citizens if the police demonstrated even a modicum of responsibility and compassion. Yet, senior officers have recently mocked the citizenry for ‘overblowing’ their fears and dismissed concerns that things may be going from bad to worse in their city. The city’s thana culture is no different: callous disregard, disinterested faces, and a general unwillingness to help are a standard greeting whenever citizens approach their police stations for help. Little wonder, then, that the police continue to be viewed as the most corrupt institution in the country. Instead of earning our respect and admiration for doing a difficult and important job, police officers are viewed with distrust and contempt. The lack of faith in the police forces and the impunity with which criminals are operating is now pushing the frustrated citizenry to take extreme actions, even to take the law into their own hands. The police must take the city’s law and order back under their control before we reach a point where vigilantes start handing out ‘justice’ again.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2022

Border flare-up

THE situation on the western border is presenting itself as a fresh security challenge for the state, as repeated acts of violence, apparently emanating from Afghanistan, have resulted in an unacceptable loss of life in Pakistan. The fact that the Afghan side has no qualms about targeting civilian areas is particularly disturbing. In the latest flare-up, according to ISPR, the Afghan side opened “indiscriminate fire” on civilian areas in Chaman on Thursday, resulting in at least one death and multiple casualties. Reportedly, the violence was sparked when Pakistani personnel were repairing a border fence and came under fire from the Afghan side, with Pakistani forces returning fire. This incident comes after Sunday’s clash, in which several people were killed on the Pakistani side. The Afghan Taliban apologised after Sunday’s exchange; unfortunately, the apology proved quite short-lived as Thursday’s episode illustrated. This is the third major armed exchange over the past few weeks, as a clash in November resulted in the closure of the Chaman border crossing for nearly a week.

Border clashes between Pakistani and Afghan forces are not new. For example, they occurred during both the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani administrations — governments that weren’t very friendly towards Pakistan. With the Afghan Taliban taking the reins in Kabul last year, it was perceived that a more ‘pliant’ regime next door would bring some calm to our western border. As the events of the past few weeks have shown, this perception was misplaced. The Afghan Taliban are clearly not ‘our boys’ in Kabul, and can hardly be remote-controlled from Islamabad. Regardless, Pakistan must be firm with the Kabul regime: cross-border violence has to stop, particularly the targeting of civilians on the Pakistani side. If the Taliban have concerns regarding Pakistan, flag meetings should be used to sort out differences, and if matters go beyond that, higher diplomatic channels can be employed to defuse tensions. But if violent cross-border attacks continue, Pakistan must defend itself vigorously. The Afghan Taliban may be faction-ridden, with some components hostile towards Pakistan, while the TTP is a declared enemy of the state. Be that as it may, the Taliban need to put their own house in order, and any elements that seek to harm Pakistan, or provoke confrontation, must be handled accordingly by Kabul’s rulers. Due to their hard-line policies, the Taliban are isolated on the world stage. Creating trouble for Pakistan will only add to their isolation.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2022

Reko Diq agreement

CAUGHT between a rock and a hard place, the government has made a choice in the $11bn dispute with regard to the Reko Diq gold and copper project that some would applaud, and others criticise.

The final deal, signed with the Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold and its Chilean partner Antofagasta, for reviving the project and resolving the dispute, has been presented as the only way out of a situation which had negatively impacted Pakistan’s standing as an investment-friendly nation.

In fact, had the agreement been negotiated a little more meticulously, the authorities might also have secured commitments from Barrick to set up a refinery at Chagai to ensure transparency in what, and how much, will be mined and shipped out of the country.

Still, it is to be hoped that all parties involved — Barrick, the centre and Balochistan — will agree on a mechanism to dispel anxiety and ensure that no stakeholder — especially Balochistan’s people — is cheated out of their share when precious metals are taken out of the country in raw form.

That said, the new deal appears to be a big improvement on the past when international investors held 75pc of the total shareholding in the project that is billed to be potentially the world’s largest gold and copper mine, with deposits capable of producing 200,000 tons of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold a year for nearly 50 years.

Under the new agreement finalised after 10 years of legal battle, Barrick will get half of the project ownership, with Balochistan and three federal state-owned firms 25pc each of the remainder.

The agreement will help Pakistan avoid $11bn in fines ordered by the international arbitration court against its decision to deny the joint venture of Barrick and Antofagasta the licence to develop Reko Diq. Islamabad will, however, pay $900m to Antofagasta, which is exiting the project, to purchase its shareholding.

Although the Balochistan government is on board with Islamabad on the agreement, some Baloch nationalist parties like the BNP-M — and even the JUI-F — do not seem happy with it, and the way the government rushed the Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Bill, 2022, through parliament to guarantee the protection of foreign investment in connection with Reko Diq to meet the Dec 15 deadline for signing it.

There’s no doubt that the reconstituted deal is mostly tilted in favour of the investor. But as they say a bird in hand is worth two in the bush; it’s time to move on and make the best use of the pact.

The project will bring significant growth opportunities to Balochistan by creating jobs, promoting the regional economy and increasing investment in healthcare, education, vocational training, food security and the supply of potable water.

It is, however, also time for our policymakers to build institutional capacities to craft international agreements to protect the interests of the country, and not the investors.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2022

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