The Express Tribune Editorial 7 November 2019

$1.2 billion surprise


In a welcome surprise, the PTI-led government appears to have managed to convince Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to intervene and help Pakistan avoid a billion-dollar penalty. Pakistan had been fined $1.2 billion for breach of contract by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in August 2017 over the Karkey rental power project case, with interest still accruing as Pakistan sought to appeal for a reduction. At the same time, extensive lobbying was also being done behind the scenes to reduce or waive the fine.
However, even though various PTI leaders had been hinting for weeks that the fine would be waived due to the international community’s faith in Prime Minister Imran Khan and the ruling party, it does appear that there was a quid pro quo. It has come out that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will not prosecute the Turkish company’s directors, agents and employees in the related rental power project (RPP) graft case. Earlier, the anti-graft body had refused to withdraw cases against Karkey staffers, even though reports in this paper suggested that this would have weakened the initial case against Pakistan. The report also quoted NAB officials as saying that the cases were being withdrawn in the “national interest”, but multiple reports have suggested that the state has solid evidence of corruption against Turkish company.
Unfortunately, this victory does not address the root of the problem. Pakistan did not lose the Karkey case because of corruption or lack thereof. It lost because a Pakistani judge either forgot or ignored the fact that international courts do not care about his desire to be in the headlines every day. Unfortunately, that judge was the Chief Justice of Pakistan at the time — Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Such activism continued well past Chaudhry’s term, and many would argue it was almost always to Pakistan’s detriment. Incidentally, another of former CJP Chaudhry’s decisions that could cost Pakistan dear came in the Reko Diq case, where Pakistan is appealing a potentially crippling $6 billion fine. And this time, a friendly government is less likely to intervene if things do not go our way.



Waning protest?


The PML-N and the PPP have moved away from the ‘Azadi March’, leaving the JUI-F – as well as smaller opposition parties like the ANP and the PkMAP – in the lurch. The anti-government protest in the heart of the federal capital seems to have run out of steam. It’s no more a show by a joint opposition. Appearing isolated, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has – after his meetings with Chaudhry Brothers, the go-betweens – hinted at his readiness to consider any suggestions from the government in search of a middle ground. What the Maulana, the spearhead, is now understood to be looking for is a face-saving takeaway.
The JUI-F Ameer, however, feigns inflexibility – and quite understandably so – on his main demand that Prime Minister Imran Khan tender his resignation and announce fresh elections in the country. He continues to produce fiery speeches against the incumbents, lashing out at their policies on almost everything – foreign policy, governance, economy, etc – in what can be construed as an attempt to maintain his bargaining position as well as to keep his followers charged. He has managed to get the desired feel flow through the protest venue where the numbers are intact despite the rain and the ensuing cold heralding the onset of the winter season.
That the Maulana’s show – in its present state – can hardly pull off an out and out victory is all in the air. Even an attempt to surge into the Red Zone, or anywhere closer, can barely help towards forcing the Prime Minister to resign. A dignified return for the protesters comes up as the only plan B available. So what it is that could pave the way for a return march for the Maulana and his followers while sparing their blushes? Well, it’s a million-dollar question whose answer is hard to get at this stage. In the meanwhile, the government’s to-do list must at least include avoiding victory rhetoric lest the protesters should not be forced towards the point of no return.



More UTPs than convicts


The number of under-trial prisoners in jails across the country exceeds that of convicted prisoners, a recent report submitted in the supreme court has revealed. The fourth quarterly implementation report regarding the status of implementation of recommendations and improvement in jail conditions in Pakistan was submitted by the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat. According to the report, the present prison population is above the sanctioned capacity for prisons in Punjab, Sindh and K-P. In Punjab, the difference between capacity and the number of prisoners is 14,600, in Sindh it is 4,201 and it is 1, 229 in K-P. The number of convicts in Punjab is 17,56 while 26,725 are UTPs. In Sindh, there are 4,808 convicts and 12,431 UTPs. K-P has 2,794 convicts and 7,668 UTPs in prisons. In Balochistan’s jails, there are 798 convicts and 1,1184 UTPs. A few months ago, another report said the country’s prisons held 57 per cent more prisoners than their capacity, and two-thirds of them were UTPs. The latter report was jointly prepared by the National Counter Terrorism Authority, the ICRC and an NGO.
Overcrowding in jails is resulting in compromising medical and hygiene facilities being provided to prisoners. Accommodating prisoners beyond the capacity of jails also enhances the chances of better prisoners coming under the influence of bad ones. Overcrowded prisons reflect the socio-economic conditions of a country. It indicates the state of socio-economic justice, the state of rule of law, whether the courts of laws are efficient in deciding cases, and whether there are inordinate delays in dispensing justice. Those familiar with the issues concerning prisoners’ trials hold that delays mostly occur because of lethargy on the police’s side and also due to tendency to seek repeated adjournments. This tendency needs to be curbed. The low literacy rate of the country is also giving rise to criminal activities. This is swelling the prison population. He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
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