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Dawn Editorial 14 February 2020

Hafiz Saeed’s conviction

THE verdict on the terror financing cases involving Jamaatud Dawa supremo Hafiz Saeed on Wednesday is a major development as this country tries to dismantle the active militant infrastructure.
Saeed was, of course, the driving force behind Lashkar-e-Taiba — before dissociating from it when it was banned to go on to establish JuD. Formed as the US-backed Afghan jihad was winding down in the late 1980s, the Kashmir-centric Lashkar became one of the most violent and well-organised militant groups in South Asia.
The lawyer of the veteran jihadi leader, who along with an aide was convicted by an antiterrorism court, says they will appeal the judgement in the Lahore High Court.
Saeed’s counsel argues that his client was convicted for no other reason than due to FATF “pressure” ahead of its upcoming meeting. Whether FATF was a consideration, it does appear that there is a growing realisation in the government and security establishment that nurturing or ignoring such violent actors was a dangerous policy, and that the time had come to put an end to their activities.
The fact is that using militant actors as tools of foreign policy is a failed strategy. This seems to be the understanding at the top in Islamabad.
While world powers, including those who are now asking Pakistan to ‘do more’, were at one time proponents of using religious militants against state or non-state opponents, today they have publicly ditched this strategy.
Moreover, using such proxies has brought nothing but problems for Pakistan, with the UN listing Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist.
Besides involvement in foreign theatres, and the ensuing opprobrium this has brought Pakistan, the fact is that LeT/JuD fighters have also contributed to instability within the country. The organisation has maintained links with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as with elements that evolved into the Punjabi Taliban. Considering these precedents, it can only be welcomed that Saeed has been sent to prison.
Another major point that the conviction of the JuD chief raises is that, in Pakistan, militant groups are proscribed while their leaders and cadres continue to operate as per routine.
Perhaps the sentencing of Hafiz Saeed will help change this situation.
For example, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Musharraf administration outlawed a host of jihadi and sectarian groups, but they continued to operate without hindrance and merely changed their names.
The fact is that this country’s jihadi infrastructure — built under Gen Ziaul Haq’s watch with American ‘guidance’ and Saudi money — should have been dismantled a long time ago.
While the mistakes of the past cannot be undone, a new course can surely be charted by ensuring that no armed groups espousing violence within or outside the country are allowed to operate in Pakistan. This will help improve the country’s standing externally, and help keep the peace domestically.


Stopgap measures

WITH the country’s politics beset with allegations and handwringing over food inflation across the country, the prime minister himself appears to be desperately in search of a way to bring down prices. His detractors argue that this is because the political costs of high inflation have put him and his government in a tight spot. Conversely, his supporters say that he is driven by a genuine concern for the suffering of the poor, who have been hit the hardest. But whatever one’s perspective, it is difficult to know whose advice the prime minister is acting upon. He has prohibited his government from exporting sugar and ordered the Competition Commission to move against flour millers. Some reports are emerging in major metropolitan centres that flour millers have begun to bring down prices, and if this trend continues, we could see inflation tapering off, perhaps even declining by next month. Perishables are a different story and could present a more complex challenge. But with the government moving into high gear to rein in inflation, ideas that might have been considered extreme in recent years seem to be returning to the table for discussion.
One example is the return of the ration card scheme, which presents new possibilities with biometric technology and the National Socio-Economic Registry database that the Benazir Income Support Programme created and operates on. A few months ago, as food inflation embarked upon its upward spiral, the prime minister ordered an increased allocation of Rs7bn for the Utility Stores Corporation. This time, they are planning an allocation of Rs10bn to expand the base of USC coverage by another 5,000 stores in the hope that they can reach a larger number of poor and deserving people in this way. But while such efforts might be lauded, they are not likely to go far in shoring up the government political fortunes if inflation continues to rise. The NSER contains data for 27m households across the country, and this can be augmented further by adding government employees in grades one to six. But tackling inflation through targeted subsidies carries its own risks. These are little more than stopgap measures, and given the amount of government attention and time they are soaking up at the highest levels, it would be better if such energy were invested instead in providing the kind of leadership that the economy needs in order to ward off the inflationary spirals that are breaking out.


Excessive force in Quetta

ON Wednesday, videos of the police baton-charging unarmed protesters near the Balochistan Assembly in Quetta began circulating on social media. The protestors — men and women, old and young alike — were employees and students at the Bolan Medical College and the All Pakistan Clerks Association. These citizens were simply exercising their right to peaceful protest and for a chance to be heard by the powers-that-be who could bring change to their lives. After all, ‘change’ was this government’s motto — not shielding themselves from the words of the very constituents whose votes they needed to come into power.
A protest is simply the manifestation of a people’s grievance and desire to be heard. It is very much part and parcel of a culture of healthy debate, human rights and tolerance. And as long as it adheres to constitutional guidelines, it should be welcomed — or tolerated, at the very least. Instead of listening to their grievances, however, we once again witnessed the heavy-handedness and overreaction of state authorities towards a peaceful gathering. Over a hundred of those protestors were taken into custody. It is baffling how law enforcement continues to exhibit such brutality and suspicion towards those simply demanding their rights, thereby criminalising them, and yet barely lifts a finger against the many groups that threaten others with direct acts of violence and hate speech, particularly when it is directed against marginalised or minority groups. But this is not the first time we have seen such blatant abuse of power and, unfortunately, it is unlikely to be the last. From using batons against protesting teachers to water cannons against nurses in Sindh — both our distant and recent past is filled with examples of police excess against unarmed professionals. This bullying behaviour and inability to simply listen to some of the most powerless segments of society will only prove to hurt us all in the long run.


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