Dawn Editorials 28th May 2023

India’s bloodlust

THE Indian establishment seems determined to send veteran Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik to the gallows. The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front head was convicted under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and sentenced by a trial court last year for allegedly raising funds to finance terrorism, and waging war against India. India’s National Investigation Agency had wanted Mr Malik to be given the death penalty, but the court disagreed, saying the charges did not merit capital punishment. Not satisfied with Mr Malik’s life term, the NIA has approached the Delhi High Court again seeking the death penalty — a punishment this paper opposes on grounds of principle — for the JKLF chief. The case will be taken up on Monday.

It is hoped that better sense prevails and the petition calling for Mr Malik’s capital punishment is thrown out. Mr Malik’s conviction reeks of political vengeance, and the calls for his hanging reflect a desire by India’s rulers to send a chilling message to all those raising a voice for occupied Kashmir. It should be recalled that Mr Malik gave up the armed struggle in the mid-1990s, and since then has been leading a non-violent struggle for the liberation of his homeland. The charges against him in this case are farcical. They include “pelting stones [at] security forces … burning of schools, damage to public property” and the more serious charge of waging war against India. It should be mentioned that leading human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc, have termed UAPA a “draconian” law, with AI pointing out that parts of the legislation “do not meet international human rights standards”. Sending a man to his death under such flimsy charges, convicted under such a dubious law, is a travesty of justice. Even loyalist Kashmiri politicians such as Mehbooba Mufti have opposed the death sentence for Yasin Malik. The judiciary should throw out the questionable case.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023

Unethical disclosure

IN its glee over the travails of its nemesis, the PTI, at the hands of the establishment, the government has sunk to a new low. On Friday, Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel held a press conference to announce the results of what he claimed were the preliminary results of medical tests carried out on PTI chairman Imran Khan at the NAB office following his arrest on May 9. Mr Patel was scarcely able to contain himself as he smugly announced that doctors had found no evidence of a fracture in the former prime minister’s legs, while traces of alcohol and cocaine were detected in the urine sample and that his mental stability was “questionable”. According to the minister, Mr Khan’s examination was carried out by a medical board consisting of five senior medical professionals at the Polyclinic and the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. One wonders how any of these individuals could sign off voluntarily on a document so flawed and self-contradictory.

But first and foremost, regardless of the veracity of the report, it is completely unethical to disclose an individual’s medical information for any purpose. In most civilised countries, medical records are handled with utmost confidentiality and covered by data protection laws. Such data, unless its disclosure is consented to by the person concerned, should remain confidential. Instead, the coalition government chose to use the purported test results to further its political agenda. In any case, the fact that this task was undertaken by Mr Patel — a PPP leader whose appointment as head of the health ministry raised many eyebrows — meant its credibility was in doubt from the very outset. The ‘results’, as announced by him, have had scorn poured on them from almost every section of society and the media. On the first page, the report declares Mr Khan “fit” to be presented before NAB and describes his “higher mental function” as “intact”. In the observations at the end, however, the report concludes that Mr Khan “had little insight about the seriousness and reality of the current situation. The mental stability is questionable”. As though to underscore the farcical nature of this exercise, the concluding remark reads: “There were some inappropriate gestures.” The parties that comprise the coalition government have lost all sense of proportion in their desire to humiliate and vanquish their political opponent.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023

On desertions

OH, how the mighty have fallen. It is difficult not to feel sorry for the PTI’s youthful support base as they witness some of their loudest leaders jump ship right when their loyalties were needed the most. Each day brings a wave of fresh desertions.

Haggard faces are paraded on national television, denouncing the events of May 9 and saying goodbye to both party and politics. It makes for a sad spectacle. However, though it may seem unkind, it isn’t without reason that the deserters are being mocked in some quarters.

Most seasoned Pakistani politicians have experienced firsthand the harassment and suffering that comes with the job. Many of them are finding it hard to believe how the PTI leadership could fold so easily when they persevered. One wonders what kind of duress they were under: was it simply the terrible conditions of prison, or blackmail, threats against family, or something worse? It is difficult to say.

What isn’t as difficult to surmise is who is behind the campaign to break apart yet another political movement that has grown too big for the state’s liking. Their playbook hasn’t changed.

Pre-election political engineering, the fracturing of a dominant party by force, and an overbearing campaign to silence and intimidate critical voices are all signs that the mentality that has defined our security apparatus’s domineering hold over Pakistan’s frail democratic apparatus for most of its unfortunate history is still very much alive.

If the last chief is to be believed, it had taken years of reflection and careful consideration for the armed forces to arrive at their ‘neutral’ stance. It took mere months to abandon it completely. Clearly, the temptation to relapse into old habits was too difficult to resist. Another generation must now grow up ruing this nation’s unfulfilled potential thanks to the lack of any continuity in its democratic processes.

Before concluding, a word on how political movements have survived crises. In the past, the leaders of every major political party led by example during their darkest hour. Be it Mujibur Rahman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Khan Abdul Wali Khan or others, — each was, at some point, forced to choose between freedom or their cause. They chose the latter and suffered.

Mr Khan, instead of sacrificing for the ‘revolution’ he wanted, managed to make it his undoing. While he was freed rather quickly after arrest, others were not extended the same privileges. This is likely what broke morale.

That so many of his lieutenants chose to put themselves above the PTI and its cause is a shocking indictment of the quality of Mr Khan’s leadership. He will find it difficult to survive politically if most of the remaining leaders have similarly little conviction in his vision for the future.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023

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