The Express Tribune Editorial 1 October 2019

Closure for Qandeel

After three long years, we finally have some measure of closure for the tragic story of Qandeel Baloch. A Multan court has convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment the social media star’s brother who happened to be the prime suspect in her murder. While it is said that justice delayed is justice denied, given what happens with cases of honour killings and violence against women in our country, a resolution is better than no resolution.
That said, the verdict, which provides a detailed look into the investigation, does highlight the huge gaps in capability that plague our law enforcement agencies. The conviction, the ruling admits, rests on circumstantial evidence. Meanwhile, none of the allegations against the other suspects could be backed up with any credible proof.
The entire investigation, it appears, rests primarily on verbal accounts, which does seem somewhat baffling considering the violent nature of the case. Surely a murder investigation ought to have yielded more tangible evidence. The recounting of case proceedings also highlights how stuck in the past our investigative processes and laws concerning admissible evidence are. For instance, there is a debate on the admissibility of DNA evidence while polygraph or lie-detector tests — which are known the world over to be highly inaccurate — are treated with what seems a bit more credence.
Finally, stepping away from the judicial and investigative aspects, the life and death of Qandeel also raise questions of gender and class attitudes that we, as a nation, need to introspect on. It is true that her murder is a direct result of our society’s obsession with dictating what is and isn’t ‘proper’ for women and girls. But it is the imperviousness of our country’s class system that left someone born in crippling poverty like her with no shot at prosperity. As we lionise her in death, we should also reflect on the ridicule and derision we poured on her in life as she pursued a future that was tragically out of reach.


More tourists visit Pakistan

A report that tourist traffic at cultural sites in Pakistan has seen a massive increase of 317 per cent over the past five years should not come much as a surprise given the fact that the country is an ancient land full of places of historical and cultural significance. What is needed is to work properly in public relations and providing an atmosphere conducive to attracting tourists. The trend shows that things are going well in the right direction. The report, titled Cultural Heritage and Museum Visits in Pakistan by Gallup Pakistan, a research organisation affiliated with Gallup International Association, shows that tourism has the potential to revitalise the struggling economy of the country. From 1.6 million visits in 2014, the tourist traffic at cultural sites increased to 6.6 million in 2018. Punjab contributed around 95 per cent of the tourist traffic. The tourist traffic at museum sites rose from 1.7m visits in 2014 to around 2.7m in 2018. Total visits by foreigners increased two-fold for both cultural and museum sites. Over the past five years, visits by foreigners to museums rose by around 130 per cent whereas foreigner visits to cultural sites increased by 100 per cent. In the fiver-year period, museums remained more popular among foreign visitors. On average, 50 per cent more foreigners visited museums than those who visited cultural sites. The trend among all four provinces for total foreigner visits saw a gradual increase, with K-P registering the highest increase where the number of museum visits in 2018 increased by 250 per cent. From 2016 to 2018, Taxila museum was the most liked cultural sites for foreigners. A sizable number of foreigners also visited Moen Jo Daro.

The increasing number of tourists visiting Pakistan will help build a better image of the country considering the saying, ‘To travel is to discover that people are wrong about other countries.’ There is another adage, however, ‘Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.


Fighting fake news

Twenty UN member states signed the International Partnership on Information and Democracy at the UN General Assembly last week — a historic inter-governmental accord initiated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to promote democratic principles in the online public arena. The accord commits signatories to promote online access to news and information that is freely and independently reported and is diverse and reliable. It establishes democratic principles, including political, ideological, and religious neutrality for algorithms and transparency in the way they function.
The list of signatories makes for interesting reading — both for who has, and who has not signed it. Pakistan, with its burgeoning forwarded-Whatsapp-message-equals-journalism culture, is unsurprisingly absent. But also absent is the United States, which might also be unsurprising, as the country’s president was elected in no small part because of fake news and who remains, arguably, the most prominent source of fake news in the US, having told well over 10,000 lies during his presidency, according to The Washington Post.
Another oddity was India, which did sign the agreement. No matter how anyone views Kashmir — as a multilateral, bilateral, or internal Indian issue — the fact of the matter is that around 12 million residents of the region, all citizens of India, have been denied access to information in a media lockdown that is now in its eighth week. Hardly the actions of a country committed to promoting “independently reported, diverse and reliable” information.
And this is without even commenting on the absolute propaganda machine that Indian media has degenerated into, as many once-sane voices also beat the propaganda drum of the ruling party, either in a chameleon quest for survival under a fascist regime, or having honestly fooled themselves. The BJP has also been using state ads as a weapon for a long time. The party itself is among the biggest advertisers in the country, which would be fine, except for the fact that it has also enforced a policy of withholding state ads to ‘unfriendly’ media outlets, choking the independent media in places like Kashmir, even before the lockdown.


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