Dawn Editorials 9th May 2023

Yet another lynching

YET another episode of brutal lynching by a mob in Mardan shows how far we are from preventing vigilante mob justice, especially where accusations of blasphemy are involved. A video of the macabre incident has gone viral on social media, underscoring the lawless ways of a brutalised Pakistani society. That someone actually had the audacity to film the horrific incident is also chilling. The victim — a cleric — allegedly made blasphemous remarks at a political rally. Sensing the crowd’s anger, police personnel escorted the man to a shop nearby in an attempt to protect him. But the mob prevailed. Angry men broke into the shop and beat the cleric to death — and did not even stop there. This episode is sadly among scores of others in which men and women accused of blasphemy have been targeted, attacked and killed. Even the family members of those accused of blasphemy, as well as the lawyers protecting the latter, are not safe, and have been victims of harassment, violence and even death. They need extra protection.

It is clear that, despite strong censure of such incidents by rights organisations and activists, and notwithstanding the condemnation of the violence by other countries including those belonging to the European Union, for years now, the state has failed to prevent mob violence perpetrated in the name of religion. Politicians, lawyers and activists have lost their lives to the cause; the Supreme Court has called for the punishment of those falsely accusing others; but the threat attached to blasphemy accusations is as potent as ever. It is akin to a death sentence against the accused, and effectively means they will either be killed at the hands of an individual or a mob, or locked away in prison for years, as judges and lawyers are reluctant to take up their case. Tackling this issue requires moral courage, fortitude and political consensus — a reality that continues to elude Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2023

‘Duty, not choice’

THANKS to the frequent distractions offered by Pakistan’s ever-changing political discourse, it is easy to lose orientation while navigating the country’s ongoing social crises.

Therefore, as our various institutional and political leaders continue fabricating fresh and fantastical reasons to justify the patently unjustifiable, it is important to once again invite attention to the fact that the ongoing stand-off between the ruling parties and the PTI would have been largely addressed had all concerned institutions simply taken the legal route on the elections matter.

Unfortunately, the narrative that has gained currency in some quarters is that implementing the Constitution is conditional on the ruling parties’ grievances with the judiciary being addressed to their satisfaction. This is a problematic and untenable position to take, especially in a country perpetually on the verge of returning to totalitarianism.

We now have a situation where the chief justice is making headlines for merely stating the obvious: that the implementation and enforcement of the Constitution is a duty, not a choice.

The Supreme Court may not be without blame. Its jurisprudence in recent years has left many clamouring for an ‘evening’ of its scales. It has stepped beyond its mandate; most remarkably by ‘rewriting’ Article 63A and, more recently, by rendering a law ineffectual even before its enactment.

The court has been embroiled in needless controversy because its top justices appear to assert themselves through discretionary powers rather than by reinforcing the moral authority of their institution as a whole.

Still, none of this justifies what is expected to happen next Monday, when a second extension of the Constitution’s 90-day deadline for elections to the dissolved assemblies lapses without as much as a ballot paper being printed for the exercise.

Have the country’s laws been rendered so toothless that they will now be tossed aside when they prove too inexpedient for the powers that be? Should we not have expected a civilian government, comprising the leaders of some of the country’s largest and oldest political parties, to behave with more restraint and foresight than the failed military strongmen that have come before them?

How can one expect stability to return to a country where the rules upholding its political order are being subverted on a whim? The PDM project should not continue to hold the electoral process hostage. It has been amply warned.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2023

Trilateral talks

THE Afghan Taliban may be unpleasant interlocutors, considering their violent past and unimpressive attitude towards inclusivity and democratic governance.

Yet, one thing that many in the international community — particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours — realise is that there are few options but to engage with the group as it is, after all, the de facto government in Kabul.

Pakistan and China very much adhere to this thinking, as was evidenced by the recently concluded Fifth Trilateral Foreign Ministers Dialogue in Islamabad, in which the top diplomats of Pakistan, China and Afghanistan participated.

As expected, counterterrorism and economics topped the agenda, with Pakistan and China gently reminding the Afghan side that more work had to be done to ensure Afghanistan did not become a haven for terrorist groups. Moreover, the proposal to extend CPEC to Afghanistan would also be significant for regional geo-economics, should it come to fruition.

The dialogue also brought to the fore China’s growing desire to be seen as a regional and global peacemaker, as Beijing seeks to deploy its brand of diplomacy in trouble spots across the world.

All three foreign ministers pledged to enhance counterterrorism cooperation. For Pakistan, the presence of militant groups such as the banned TTP in Afghanistan is a major concern, one that has been communicated to Kabul on multiple occasions.

China is also wary of militants using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Just last month, its foreign ministry, pinpointing its concerns about the Uighur militant group, observed that “ETIM forces in Afghanistan pose a severe threat to the security of China” — in fact, to the entire region.

Pakistan, China and other regional states must continue to pressure the Taliban to ensure terrorist groups find no refuge on Afghan soil; and the Taliban must be told again and again that expanded trade links and their engagement with the international community will suffer unless these groups are reined in.

It is of note that the Afghan delegation was reminded by the Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang of the need to “embrace inclusive governance and moderate policies”, while Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that his message to the Afghan side was “help us help you”.

After decades of instability and war, the people of Afghanistan need an atmosphere free of militancy, where they can rebuild their country and bring prosperity to millions, who currently depend on the kindness of the international community to keep starvation at bay.

The more pragmatic actors within the Afghan Taliban must prevail on their hard-line leadership and convince them that the country can only advance when all Afghans, including the female population, have a say in governance, and when fundamental rights are protected, while the international community must assure Afghans that it will help them get through these difficult times.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2023

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