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Dawn Editorial 12 July 2020

Minus one chatter

THE last few weeks have seen feverish discussion on the possibility of a ‘minus one’ formula being applied to the PTI government. This refers to a hypothetical situation in which the ruling coalition remains on the treasury benches but replaces Prime Minister Imran Khan with some other leader of the house. As yet, there has emerged no credible evidence that would suggest that such an option is under serious consideration. However, the chatter about a ‘minus one’ formula got loud enough for the prime minister himself to refer to it in a speech on the floor of the National Assembly. This reference added fuel to the rumour and prompted speculation about a possible replacement for Mr Khan from within his party. The opposition lapped up this fear-mongering knowing that such speculation added to weakening the government.
The fact, however, is that the possibility of an in-house change happening is almost negligible. As long as the PTI forms the government, Mr Khan will remain the leader and there is no real alternative to his leadership of the party. This means all talk of ‘minus one’ is little more than idle speculation peppered with an intent to create doubts about the sustainability of the PTI government. If the PTI has an irreplaceable leader in the shape of Mr Khan, it is only following the example of most other political parties where families rule as dynasts. A handful of exceptions like the Jamaat-i-Islami may stand apart as organisations where the leadership is truly democratic, but in a majority of other parties the legitimacy of leadership is drawn from its bloodline. Prime ministers may have been knocked out of office in the past through judicial verdicts but as yet we do not have an example of a party ousting its own leader voluntarily. Mr Khan will not be an exception in all likelihood.
This does not mean that all is well in the government. Far from it. There are genuine governance issues bedevilling the ruling coalition and their parliamentary numbers look fairly vulnerable. However, it is important that the government should not become a victim of instigated instability. It has come to power through a public mandate, howsoever contested, and this means it must be allowed to govern to the best of its ability. The opposition has all the right to criticise the government’s performance but no one should have the right to try and bring down the government through machinations that fall outside the purview of democratic norms — and that could attract extra-parliamentary forces. Given our turbulent political history, it is critical that the system establishes a semblance of stability so that transitions in leadership happen according to laid-down means. The present system of checks and balances must be strengthened further so democratic systems and values take deeper root. All talk of ‘minus one’ should come to an end.


120 more courts?

JUSTICE must not only be done; it must be seen to be done — but the National Accountability Bureau appears entirely indifferent to this oft-quoted aphorism. The concept of accountability, never shorn of political considerations in this country, has over the years become increasingly tainted. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court directed that at least 120 more accountability courts should be set up in Pakistan. It was hearing a suo motu petition about the delays in accountability court trials and was irked by the fact that 1,226 references are pending since 2000, and that five out of a total of 25 such courts have vacancies for judges. According to Section 16 of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, corruption cases must be decided within 30 days of being filed.
Certainly, the delay is unforgivable. It constitutes a violation of due process rights, and destroys lives and reputations of individuals who may well be innocent of the crime they have been charged with. However, setting up more courts is not going to address the real problem that bedevils the accountability drive. NAB’s performance has been so abysmal, its unearthing of prosecutable evidence so pathetic, and its disregard for legal requirements so brazen that it has forfeited any claim to being an impartial and independent body genuinely working to bring corrupt elements to book. So far-reaching have been the adverse effects of its high-handedness that the government some months ago undertook to selectively prune its powers to proceed against businessmen and bureaucrats. The superior courts have time and again taken NAB to task. In March, the Islamabad High Court passed a landmark judgement in which it termed the NAB chairman’s arbitrary powers of arrest as running counter to constitutionally protected fundamental rights. In its detailed verdict, the court said “there must be sufficient incriminating material to justify arresting an accused”. Indeed, more often than not, NAB prosecutors have been unable to convince the judges why they needed to keep an accused in prison when the detainee was willing to cooperate with them in the investigation. A number of high-profile arrests of opposition leaders by NAB, such as that of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal among others, have been grossly mishandled and lent weight to accusations of a political witch-hunt being carried out under the guise of eradicating corruption. It is high time the government restrained NAB from bringing the concept of accountability itself into disrepute.


Hagia Sophia decision

IT is a living monument to history, one that Byzantine emperors, Ottoman sultans and Turkish nation-builders have used to project their power, and the direction the state should take. While opinion is mixed over the change of Hagia Sophia’s status — back to a mosque from a museum — the iconic Istanbul structure has a complex history, one that bears witness to the epic changes the region has witnessed since antiquity. On Friday, a top Turkish court decided that the Istanbul landmark would once more become a mosque; just under a century ago, Mustafa Kemal, the founder of modern Turkey, decided to change it to a museum in his quest to secularise his country. However, current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who some see as wanting to rebuild the Ottoman Empire’s prestige, had pushed for Hagia Sophia to once more become a mosque, and has now got what he wanted. Unesco, which had declared the structure a World Heritage Site, said it “deeply regrets” the move while Greece and Russia, who consider themselves heirs to the Byzantine civilisation, have cried foul over the change.
Inside Hagia Sophia’s majestic halls, one can witness where empires, faiths and ideologies collided, and left their mark on this magnificent structure. While Christian icons adorn its domes, equally outstanding examples of Islamic calligraphy hang from its walls. The Byzantines had originally built the structure as a church in the sixth century while in 1453 Ottoman Sultan Mehmet ‘Fatih’, after capturing Constantinople, converted the structure into a mosque. However, Mustafa Kemal —Eurocentric in many respects — changed it to a museum in 1934, while today, Mr Erdogan has succeeded in once more changing its status. Indeed, there are plenty of stunning mosques dotting Istanbul, and one can ask why the Turkish leader has courted a new controversy by changing Hagia Sophia’s status. Moreover, Muslim minorities in Europe may face issues of religious freedom, as rightist governments could use Turkey’s decision to deny permission to build or renovate mosques on their own soil.


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