The Express Tribune Editorial 2 December 2019

Trump’s distraction card


Donald Trump made an unannounced Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan last week at a time when the process to impeach him is gaining steam at home. And knowing Mr. Trump’s pattern of ruling by distraction, it is fair to say he needed to create one, and so he did by the announcements he made during that visit.
In what appeared to be a bolt out of the blue, the embattled president declared the United States was once again meeting with the Taliban to discuss a peace deal, but that it has to be a cease-fire. Not too long ago, the mercurial leader of the free world abruptly axed the very same possibility of peace with the Taliban.
Trump’s decision to once again shift the goal post on the peace talks, his support for Ashraf Ghani’s vulnerable presidency and his plan to end what he has repeatedly called America’s unending war has no clarity. For now, the statement aligns with President Ghani’s stance, who tried to convince the Trump administration not to give away an American troop withdrawal without a cease-fire because that would leave his government even more exposed to the possibility of losing whatever limited control it has over the country. But at a time when the country seems divided between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the statement on the peace process will only complicate matters further.
On the other hand, Mr. Trump may have left his diplomats scrambling. They, of all the players, have a tougher role than anyone else in this entire equation. Perhaps in the days and weeks ahead, America’s top diplomats will have to clarify Washington’s position on the talks with Taliban and peace in Afghanistan because the president, in true Trump fashion has only created confusion, like he always does. And with two key impeachment deadlines looming at home, a little confusion on the international front might just be helpful for Mr. Trump or at least that is how he would like to think.


Unfortunate incident


This represents the height of brutality. An innocent girl is reported to have been stoned to death in the Kirthar mountain range of Dadu district, although a conflicting account of how the 10-year-old met the tragic end is also being bandied about. Disturbingly, the suspicion for the brutal murder has fallen on parents of the deceased girl. If that turns out to be true after investigation, the incident will add to the catalogue of harrowing episodes shaming the nation.
Swinging into action, Dadu police have arrested the parents as well as two other suspects for their possible hand in the sordid incident.According to police, the incident occurred on the night between November 21 and 22 in the Sindh district, which borders the Balochistan province. Upon receiving information, Dadu’s senior superintendent of police directed police officials from Wahi Pandhi — an area in Johi taluka of the district — to gather information about the unfortunate episode. Wahi Pandhi police first picked up a cleric who led the police to the house of the girl’s parents. ‘We are further verifying facts but we have arrested the deceased girl’s parents and a maulvi who had led the funeral prayer, as well as another man who had facilitated her burial,” said the top police officer. According to him, all four are being quizzed.
A first information report (FIR) regarding the incident has been filed on behalf of the state by the police on the complaint of Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Ghulam Qadir Gopang. While the parents, who were living in an area called Shahi Makaan, claim that the girl had died ‘accidentally due to a landslide on the mountain’, the FIR says the girl’s father, his relative, and four others had ‘hatched a conspiracy for the murder’. Authorities need to separate grain of truth from the proverbial chaff to arrive at a just conclusion.


Unionise but with responsibility


University students in Pakistan do not have it easy. The absence of any representative body means they are left to fend off for themselves against the excesses of university administrations. From rising fees to shoddy facilities, those attending public and private institutes are at the mercy of whoever runs them. And that is before one mentions the string of harassment cases reported from some universities.
The fear of rubbing university high-ups the wrong way intimidates many students into silence. Afraid they will be told to put up or pack up, they seldom find any recourse to their grievances. Across the world, this is exactly where student unions step in. As a body free from faculty and administration influence, a student union can effectively lobby for student interests. The most effective role these unions play is in ensuring student safety. The bodies can force university authorities to introduce policies that make campuses safer and inclusive for students from all spheres. In coordination with student groups from other institutes, they can even influence government education policies.
The recent student marches held in major cities of the country have a genuine reason to demand the government revisit its policies on student unions. From harassment of students at Balochistan University to the shocking conditions in Sindh University hostels, many abhorrent developments in Pakistani higher education institutes only came to pass in such bodies’ absence. There is, however, a dark side to student unions in Pakistan’s history. Many among us remember how highly politicised they became and how student bodies running in parallel eventually ended up in violent rivalries. It was not in vacuum that these unions were banned. Even in many Western institutes, there have been instances where student unions, enamoured by lofty political ideals, have forgotten the role they are fundamentally supposed to play.

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