Dawn Editorials 7th January 2023

Many questions

TWO months after the failed assassination attempt against former prime minister Imran Khan, all we have is more questions.

It has recently come to light that the joint investigation team formed by the Punjab government to probe the deadly bid on Mr Khan’s life has found evidence of a larger conspiracy; meanwhile, the federal government has also doubled down on its stance that the attack was the work of a lone wolf acting on his religious beliefs.

It is difficult to determine who to believe, as there are ample holes in both narratives as well as the JIT’s report.

All sides appear to have been selective with the facts, with the result being that we are no closer to getting to the bottom of the matter than we were in November.

The haphazard way in which matters were handled in the immediate aftermath of the attack had all but precluded the possibility of an impartial and accurate investigation.

It was strange that the prime suspect’s alleged ‘confession’ was recorded — apparently on a senior police officer’s direction — and quickly leaked to national media well before any investigation of the incident. Then, as Mr Khan has once again pointed out, he was never allowed to lodge an FIR against the powerful individuals he suspected.

On the flipside, Mr Khan never joined the investigation or shared any proof to back the accusations he had made, and continues to make, against the prime minister, interior minister and “black sheep” in the military.

The inquiry was also conducted by a team handpicked by the Punjab government, and therefore appeared to lack the important element of impartiality.

Its reported findings, that none of the former prime minister’s guards discharged their weapons, and that bullets were fired by three different assassins from three different directions, are quite surprising as they seemingly contradict the contents of various video recordings of the attack which had circulated widely after it took place. Reports that the prime suspect failed a polygraph test are also quite concerning.

Clearly, both sides are being less than forthright and the truth is very likely quite different than what either would like to admit. It is extremely important that their distrust of each other is kept aside and we have an unimpeachable version of events. Only that can allow the prosecution of this dastardly attack.

An assassination bid against a major public leader is no trivial matter. Too many Pakistanis have paid with their lives while pursuing their vision for the country.

It is a grave tragedy that the ones who were slain never received justice, nor their families and followers any closure, just because their cases were never honestly investigated or prosecuted by the state.

The political leadership on both sides would be well advised to stop creating hurdles. Whatever the truth of the matter, it must come out.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2023

Tackling terrorism

AS the government reaffirms its resolve to strike hard at the banned TTP, all key arms of the state must be on the same page where strategy and tactics are concerned. Over the past few days, the federal interior minister has made a number of U-turns where tackling the TTP is concerned. Rana Sanaullah had hinted on TV that Pakistan could strike terrorist sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan, though he told a presser on Wednesday that this country had no plans to attack its western neighbour. The Foreign Office also clarified on Thursday that no such plans were in the offing. In a similar misstep, Mr Sanaullah had said that the state was still willing to talk to the TTP if the militant group bid a farewell to arms. This position was also changed on Thursday when the interior minister referred to the National Security Committee’s decision of not talking to any “terrorist or militant group”, and instead, highlighted the need for urging the Afghan Taliban to adhere to the Doha agreement of 2020, under which Afghanistan’s de facto rulers are supposed to prevent militant groups from using their soil.

Though the safe havens of anti-Pakistan militants cannot be tolerated in Afghanistan, unilateral action to neutralise these is not a sound idea, for violating the sovereignty of another state will not set a good precedent. After all, Pakistan has itself been the victim of America’s long drone war, and going after terrorist bases in Afghanistan without taking Kabul’s rulers on board will only complicate the situation. That is why collaboration in this respect is essential, however difficult the Taliban may be to deal with. And as the FO spokesperson mentioned, there exist “mechanisms of engagement and dialogue” between Pakistan and Afghanistan; this country needs to use these to coordinate counterterrorism efforts with Kabul. Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers say no TTP fighters are present in their country. As we have mentioned before, this is difficult to believe. Therefore, Pakistan needs to share information on TTP camps within Afghanistan with the Taliban, and ensure that action is taken to neutralise these threats, and if Kabul’s rulers refuse to cooperate, alternatives can be explored, such as applying pressure through regional countries and Muslim states to ensure the Taliban flush out the terrorists. Where talking to the TTP is concerned, the state needs to make sure there is no mixed messaging, and that no talks are held from a position of weakness.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2023

Hindutva’s culture wars

WHILE attempting to throttle and isolate India’s Muslims politically and economically, the Sangh Parivar is also front and centre in the culture wars, hounding Muslim film actors and ensuring their films fail to perform. The latest target of this campaign is the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Pathaan. Groups within the Hindutva stable have railed against the film, while protesters in Gujarat recently tore up posters of the production. Apparently, a minister in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh had issues with a song in the film, particularly the ‘objectionable’ clothing worn by the female lead. However, most modern Bollywood productions are known for their risqué scenes, and the real reason behind the hate campaign against the film is likely the religious background of its star. Last year, Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha was also the subject of a similar vilification campaign, with critics making the preposterous claim that the production’s star was ‘anti-Hindu’.

To ensure that the otherisation of Muslims in India is complete, the Sangh Parivar has been weaponising culture. While once Muslim actors, writers and composers were amongst the Bollywood elite, today these artists are susceptible to vicious hate campaigns by the violent flagbearers of Hindutva. Moreover, while in decades past Muslims on screen were depicted with subtlety, today they are either shown as two-dimensional stereotypes, such as terrorists or ‘Pakistani agents’, or cartoonish villains from history cowering before valorous Hindu kings. It is also true that Hindutva’s shock troops are opposed to all sorts of cultural exchanges between Pakistan and India; local blockbuster The Legend of Maula Jatt has not been screened in India for fear of reprisals from extremists. The trend of using culture to demonise certain communities is a dangerous one, and will only make the lives of Muslims in India more difficult. The proponents of Hindutva want to ‘purify’ Indian society of all traces of Muslim culture, erasing centuries of Muslim influence and interaction between communities in the subcontinent. The campaigns against Muslim artists are only a part of this sinister plan.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2023

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