New year challenge
WITH crises-battered 2019 behind it, Pakistan enters 2020 with cautious hope, as an optimistic prime minister promises economic stability and jobs in the new year — a view hardly shared by an opposition reeling from the cases against its leaders, including a former president and prime minister.
Read: 2019 in review: Who made news in Pakistan?
Crises hit the nation with rapidity, engulfing every segment of state and society as inflation worsened, political polarisation sharpened and judicial pronouncements made waves. Yet what has baffled even the most ardent of the PTI chief’s admirers is his inability to shed the ‘container syndrome’.
He will need to; besides the economy, the biggest challenge before Prime Minister Imran Khan now is the uphill task of reviving the people’s faith in his commitment to democracy, and proving by deeds that he can carry the opposition along in the task of nation-building without compromising his promise of accountability.
The aim he has set for himself and his government — to turn Pakistan into a welfare state — is laudable.
Sceptics likely to dismiss it as a political mantra devoid of substance may revise their opinion if he and the plethora of his ministers and advisers genuinely pursue this ideal in a manner that is democratic and evokes cooperation, not only from lawmakers but from a government machinery that is demoralised and lives in fear.
The prime minister can disarm his critics if he makes up his mind to uphold the supremacy of parliament, in part by attending the house during the question hour as he had earlier promised.
Negligence of this kind leads to the unfortunate scenario where the Senate, which hasn’t had a session in four months, stands virtually dysfunctional.
If democracy is to flourish and civilian supremacy to reign, the leader of the house must not lend the impression that he does not care about parliament.
Vital legislative work awaits the prime minister, as the country cannot afford indefinite political gridlock or being governed by presidential decree alone. For this, he must make his political rivals discard the persecution complex.
All these tasks — and the dreams for Pakistan’s future he has often spoken of — require a robust parliament and the opposition’s willing cooperation if the prime minister is to succeed in recasting his government’s image as that of one armed to the teeth with democratic and legislative tools to plunge into the task of creating the Naya Pakistan he aspires to.
It is also through parliamentary supremacy that the civilian leadership can deftly deal with external affairs so that foreign governments know who to negotiate with, at a time when Pakistan faces serious challenges to its security on its eastern and western borders.
At the start of this new year, let us all, and not just the government, embrace the coming decade with an open mind.
Facebook vs Kashmir
FACEBOOK often struggles with its principles regarding freedom of speech for users versus its bottom line, which requires keeping powerful stakeholders happy.
This appeared to be on display once again on Monday, when the company blocked live streaming of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation’s news bulletins highlighting Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.
As reported by Radio Pakistan, Facebook had been sending messages since May warning the PBC of violating “community standards on dangerous individuals and organisations”.
The company’s spokesperson later clarified that the PBC’s access to Facebook Live was only temporarily restricted pending review.
Nonetheless, there is a broader pattern, since the death of Burhan Wani in 2016, of Facebook methodically censoring news and opinion on the Kashmir crisis.
Based on news reports and details shared by users, censorship activities occur in short, sharp spikes around current events connected to India. It is reasonable to assume that this policy is set in place through lobbying by India, one of Facebook’s critical markets.
The question of who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter; which struggle is legitimate and which is not, comes down to who has more sway with the social network, which is largely determined by size and scope of the market, not by higher principles or nuanced examination of the issue at hand.
It is true that Facebook is facing a Herculean task trying to manage the inevitable politics that result from being responsible for billions of users globally — it encounters challenges that have never been faced by any organisation historically — but it is doing a poor job of it.
This has real-world consequences, especially in conflict zones.
The likelihood that the social network will change its modus operandi is slim, and given that Twitter is going down the same path of censorship, the internet as a whole will become increasingly regulated in favour of those with the most power.
For Kashmiris and those lobbying for their rights, social media in its current form is more curse than blessing.
In such a situation, the suggestion by the prime minister’s aide Firdous Ashiq Awan that Pakistan stop relying heavily on these social media platforms isn’t as absurd as it sounds. The internet is still unpredictable; companies rise and fall, and if Facebook, Twitter and YouTube do not offer their users the freedom they seek, they will go elsewhere. This is a fundamental the platforms must recognise sooner rather than later.
Welfare of trans people
ON Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan distributed Sehat Insaf cards to members of the transgender community in Peshawar. He regretted the discrimination faced by the community, and reassured them of his government’s protection. In previous months, the government-issued healthcare cards were extended to citizens with disabilities in Punjab and those belonging to the tribal districts in KP. By being a visible and vocal advocate at the helm of his Sehat Insaf scheme, the prime minister sends a commendably strong message to others — that the welfare of historically marginalised groups is necessary to create a more equitable and compassionate society. But our nation continues to suffer from many contradictions, including attitudes towards the trans community. For instance, in 2018, rights activists celebrated the historic passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which gave trans people the right to self-identify on all official documentation. The act also protects them from discrimination and guarantees them the same constitutional rights as any other citizen of the state. However, in that same year, there were many horrific instances of violence committed against the community. In KP alone, some 479 attacks were recorded and, according to advocacy group TransAction, four trans women were murdered. Until more is done to prosecute such hate crimes, all other legislative or symbolic measures will lead to little change on the ground.
Additionally, the medical community will need to sensitise its staff, and formulate policies and procedures to better attend to the healthcare needs of the transgender community, who have repeatedly expressed their discomfort at visiting clinics, as they are subject to a host of insensitive questions. Even worse, they are ignored, with instances of hospital staff refusing to attend to them in emergency situations. This has led to some members of the transgender community demanding separate wards. While this is one step, it would be better to create a more equal society, which does not need to segregate itself further in order for its marginalised members to feel protected.