THE thought of getting the US or other world powers involved in improving the sticky Pakistan-India relationship is attractive, especially when bilateral efforts keep reaching a dead end. However, experience and history teach us that America or other ‘influential’ states are not very interested in jumping into the boiling cauldron of South Asian regional politics, and peace will only come to this region when states themselves are ready for it. In this context, the foreign secretary on Tuesday brought up the Pakistan-India relationship with the American undersecretary of state for political affairs. As quoted in the media, the foreign secretary told the American diplomat that there was a need “to take steps to prevent escalation of tensions and to facilitate peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”.
While the government’s sentiment to get Washington involved in order to resolve South Asia’s bitterest dispute must be appreciated, some ground realities ought to be considered. Ever since independence, America has hardly rushed forward to end the hostility between Pakistan and India. In fact, when it comes to this relationship, the US has only intervened during times of extreme crisis, for example during the Kargil fiasco. Moreover, even if the US did come round to committing itself to playing peacemaker in South Asia, the fact is with an election looming in November, no US candidate will have the appetite to commit to this role. Facilitating diplomatic engagement between Pakistan and India is no easy task, and both major parties in the US will be too preoccupied with their own domestic issues to spend time and energy on South Asian peace. Also, during an election year, and with a highly active Indian-American lobby, candidates will be looking to grab as many votes as possible, especially from racial/ethnic blocs, instead of launching risky diplomatic initiatives in a highly unstable region. If at all, Pakistan should pursue American mediation after the results of the presidential elections are announced.
Secondly, mediation will only work when the other ‘aggrieved party’ — India in this case — is willing to listen to a facilitator. The BJP-led right-wing government that rules New Delhi has hardly gushed over the thought of making peace with Pakistan, and has in fact rebuffed this country’s efforts. Moreover, India’s standard, rigid line is that Kashmir is a ‘bilateral’ dispute, and that third-party mediation in this regard is unwelcome. If this is the attitude, how can facilitation succeed? By all means world powers should use their influence with New Delhi to push it towards peace. But Pakistan should be realistic and not depend on others to improve its ties with India. The best bet would be to prevent bilateral relations from deteriorating further until a more approachable government takes power in India, without compromising on Pakistan’s principled stand on Kashmir.
Missing LG systems
THE reluctance to work at strengthening the foundations is reflected in the inability to deal with crises. There was much discussion on how the presence of a local government could have helped Pakistan establish a firmer grip on the situation arising out of Covid-19 when the rains added impetus to the debate. Just as the basic local tier of political parties, vital to any system claiming to be democratic, is fiercely discouraged, a local government worth the title is an elusive goal. Punjab wrapped up its local bodies last summer. Sindh has a debilitated system that was hardly expected to do anything after a 2013 amendment sapped all energy from the local bodies. KP has recently managed to put off its LG polls till next August, while the system in Balochistan was dissolved in 2018. And then we ask why our cities are drowning, and why there is no one there to forewarn the villagers of Kacho that their territory is about to be flooded. They are the victims of a system abandoned midway, plagued by infighting among elite power holders. Double standards is the accusation thrown at the harbingers of provincial autonomy — basically the PPP — by the central government. Sindh’s ruling party is accused of denying powers to the grassroots tier — the local government — even as it demands provincial powers from the centre. In the next frame, the centre, ie the PTI government, is found crippling and then doing away with an entire LG system in Punjab — because local governments in the province were hugely dominated by the PML-N.
The problem lies in concentrating too many powers in too few hands, even if it means snubbing one’s own party in the process. When the PML-N controlled local governments across Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif acted as king instead of giving LG officials their due. There is only one way this can be remedied, and it is neither by sympathising with nor making fun of a Karachi mayor determined to end his term this month. There can be no compromise on grassroots empowerment. This means there is no going back on decentralisation. Hence, the push for further zonings must continue, until power is truly devolved and shared at the grassroots. Hopefully, the water levels have risen to a sufficient level for people to react sharply and demand a local government as a fundamental right. Perhaps the floods have left the soil fertile for this.
IN a meeting held on Tuesday, the Senate Special Committee on Child Protection spoke of the need to strengthen the investigation process in child abuse cases, including addressing loopholes in existing child protection laws and building the capacity of medical and investigative officers to handle such cases. As the Kasur child sexual abuse ring that was exposed in 2015 demonstrates, in many instances these are not isolated crimes committed by individual assailants, but violations ranging from physical violence to cybercrimes, committed on a massive scale and in collusion with multiple perpetrators. Tragically, despite the shocking revelations of 2015, or the horrific rape-murder of little Zainab in 2018 — an event that became the catalyst for the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act — predators continue to victimise children with a sense of impunity. Earlier this year, the child protection advocacy group Sahil revealed it had documented at least 2,846 cases of child abuse reported in newspapers in Pakistan in 2019. The grim reality is that, given the stigma attached to the issue as well as the fact that assailants are often either a family member or closely acquainted with the victim’s family, this figure is a drop in the ocean compared to the actual rate of child sexual abuse in Pakistan. Similarly, for every case of a child domestic worker being physically assaulted that receives the attention of the authorities and public, there are scores more incidents that go undetected.
Our laws must be strengthened, but it is equally important that attempts to improve legislation not take place in a vacuum. Laws alone are not enough to guarantee the safety and well-being of Pakistani children — particularly those who are at higher risk of neglect, abuse or exploitation. Greater scrutiny and vigilance are needed of schools, madressahs and the places in which children work. More investment is needed in specialised child protective services. The debate must continue in order to shine a light on more than just the tip of the iceberg.