Dawn Editorials 18th May 2023

IDPs left high and dry

AS a vicious political flare-up grips Pakistan, the continuing IDP crisis has fallen by the wayside. A joint report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council puts the global number of displaced people at 71.1m in 2022. It includes massive dislodgment caused by Russia’s war and those left homeless in the catastrophic floods that submerged large parts of Pakistan. Although the report says 8m were displaced in the country, the overall figure of those affected is a grim 33m, which is one-third of the population, with 2.2m homes either swept away or damaged. Ideally, these figures should have served as a climate change clarion call for authorities to prioritise rehabilitation. But a vast majority still faces brutal attackers and weather conditions. Reports as recent as January this year say some six IDPs were shot dead and five wounded in an attack on their makeshift shelters in Jacobabad.

It is time to spare a thought for humanity that was robbed by nature. For a nation as beleaguered as Pakistan, the international community must do more to assuage mass misery. Moreover, minors among the displaced being deprived of basic rights to health and education is an area of significant collective concern. Restoration of homes and livelihoods is not all that should have been delivered by the government. As the trajectory of climate change suggests monsoon floods will be a biannual blow, robust strategies to counter natural calamities are absent. Taking a cue from developed nations, we require a crisis response task force on a national scale for prompt control and provision of shelter, food and safety. And federating units need to work in smooth unison to plug loopholes in service delivery systems. Succour for humanity can only arrive with a committed, sensitive leadership so that lives do not hang by an endless thread and relief is provided with a vision to end need.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2023

Familiar brutality

IT is quite clear that the state has decided to show no mercy to the PTI or its cadres after the violent events following Imran Khan’s short lived arrest last week. Many hundreds of the party’s supporters have been rounded up, as the nationwide crackdown against the PTI continues.

Mr Khan has likened the state’s reaction to the “Mongolian phase”, a reference to the brutal methods applied by the Mongol Empire of antiquity against all those that stood in its way.

Though this may be an exaggeration, the PDM government and the establishment indeed want to teach the PTI a lesson; whereas Genghis Khan and his hordes put their opponents to the sword, the state wants to effectively cancel the PTI through arrests, intimidation and political engineering.

The same tired old methods are being used to strike fear into the hearts of PTI supporters. Party leaders Asad Umar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi were arrested earlier, while Shehryar Afridi and his wife were picked up from their Islamabad home on Tuesday. Shireen Mazari and Falak Naz were re-arrested after being freed by the IHC.

Both were discharged on Wednesday before Ms Mazari was arrested again. Also, pro-PTI anchor Imran Riaz Khan’s whereabouts remain unknown after he was whisked away by masked men in Sialkot some days ago.

Meanwhile in Sindh, provincial lawmaker Khurram Sher Zaman says his restaurant has been sealed by the authorities due to ‘sanitation’ issues while there are rumours circulating that former minister Ali Zaidi has decided to quit the party.

Mr Zaidi has denied that he is parting ways with the PTI. However, MNA Mahmood Moulvi has announced his departure from the PTI, citing the targeting of defence installations as the reason.

While the violent rampage by PTI supporters in the aftermath of Mr Khan’s arrest is indefensible, and the perpetrators involved should be punished as per the law, efforts to eliminate the PTI must be abandoned.

Both the PML-N and the PPP have been at the receiving end of state-sponsored high-handedness under military rule as well as civilian regimes, while the PTI hounded its opponents when it was in power.

Yet mass arrests, midnight raids and ‘disappearing’ critics will only perpetuate the politics of vengeance and further erode Pakistan’s fragile democracy. Sanity should prevail on all sides and attempts to beat the PTI into submission need to be reconsidered.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2023

Delusions of adequacy

ONE wonders why our elected representatives felt it necessary to have their respect codified in law. With the bill to criminalise ‘contempt of parliament’, they are arrogating to themselves the role of judge, jury and executioner, thinking that doing so will empower them to bring to heel anyone who does not treat them with deference. It will not.

The Contempt of Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) Bill, 2023, prescribes a punishment of up to six months in prison and/or a Rs1m fine for anyone found guilty of holding parliament or its members in contempt. The word ‘contempt’ has been defined rather expansively.

It can mean breaching the privileges of a lawmaker; violating the laws guaranteeing the immunities or privileges of lawmakers; failing to obey the orders of parliament or its committees; refusing to give evidence or recording a false statement before a committee; attempting or influencing a witness to prevent him from providing evidence, producing documents or appearing before the committee; and failing to provide any documents or submitting tampered documents before a house or a committee.

Though the law appears straightforward, observers have pointed out that existing Assembly rules already protect parliamentarians’ privileges — there wasn’t any pressing need for this new legislation. The ‘justification’, in fact, lies elsewhere.

After the Supreme Court contentiously aborted a law clipping the chief justice’s discretionary powers, the government has changed tactics by using its powers to assert the notion that parliament is somehow ‘supreme’. Meanwhile, the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee is on a fishing expedition.

It is looking for evidence of financial irregularities in the Supreme Court’s accounts, but the court’s registrar — the custodian of its secrets — has proven too difficult to net. After the committee meeting this Tuesday, the PAC issued a ‘last warning’ to him for not presenting himself for questioning. With the aforementioned law in place, he could have been held guilty of contempt.

It is indeed a major problem that too many individuals and institutions feel they do not need to answer to parliament. However, this isn’t something a law can fix. The problem is not the absence of legislation, but lawmakers’ own failure to stand their ground and assert their authority.

In the PAC meeting mentioned earlier, the committee was finally handed a list detailing the monthly salaries drawn by senior ministers, judges and bureaucrats. It was promptly made public. Missing from that list were the salaries drawn by army generals.

Considering how central their role has been in the country’s affairs, this information would have been of as much public interest as the salaries of the other officials. Why was it beyond the committee’s purview? Our lawmakers may underline their importance with as many new laws as they wish, but as long as untouchables remain untouchables, little will change.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2023

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