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Dawn Editorial 15 January 2020

LHC’s verdict on treason case

RETIRED Gen Pervez Musharraf should be gratified by the Lahore High Court’s verdict on Monday, so wholly does it exonerate the former military dictator. The three-judge bench in a short order declared unconstitutional all actions taken by the special court that had found Mr Musharraf guilty of high treason and sentenced him to death. That verdict last month by a special court consisting of three high court judges is considered a landmark ruling — both lauded and excoriated, depending on which side of the divide one stands. It had hitherto seemed inconceivable that any military dictator this country has ever known would be convicted of high treason, as defined in Article 6 of the Constitution. However, the LHC through its verdict has indirectly set aside Mr Musharraf’s conviction. Although the detailed judgement is yet to be issued, it seems the bench was convinced by the argument that the special court was unlawful because it was not constituted with the federal cabinet’s approval. It also struck down the eminently sensible Section 9 of the law under which special courts function, as being a violation of fundamental rights. This clause allows a trial with certain safeguards to proceed even in the absence of the accused when such absence has been brought about by the latter himself. In short, it does not allow an accused to wilfully impede or evade justice. Further, the LHC declared that under Article 6, no law can be retrospectively applied.
Some legal experts, however, question whether the LHC was the competent forum to adjudicate on the matter at all. According to Article 199, a high court may take up the application by an aggrieved party “if it is satisfied that no other adequate remedy is provided by the law”. When the special court had given its verdict, before the LHC had concluded its hearings, surely an appeal to the Supreme Court was more than adequate remedy, indeed the next logical step in the legal process. Moreover, the Article cited above refers to “any act done or proceeding taken within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”. Certain legal quarters are asking whether that which has taken place in Islamabad — the constitution of the special court, Mr Musharraf’s trial, etc — can be described as falling within the LHC’s territorial jurisdiction.
As for retrospective application of the law because ‘suspending’ the Constitution — rather than subverting or abrogating it — was only inserted into Article 6 in 2010, three years after the emergency was imposed, it is difficult not to concur with the special court that described this line of reasoning as “semantic fraud”. If this were to stand, another military dictator would only have to come up with a new definition of essentially the same action in order for it to not attract Article 6. The issue is undeniably one of public importance, and it would be in the fitness of things for the Supreme Court to weigh in by exercising its original jurisdiction.


WHILE New Delhi is quick to brush off Pakistani criticism of its human rights violations in India-held Kashmir, the fact is that when the US censures New Delhi for the same reason, such critiques sting. And when such censure is made public ahead of an official US visit, Indian feathers are likely to be ruffled more than usual.
Tweeting a few days before her visit, Alice Wells, the State Department’s top diplomat for South and Central Asia, who is due in New Delhi today, said that the US remains “concerned by detention of political leaders and residents, and internet restrictions” that the Indian government has put in place in the occupied region. Moreover, Ms Wells hoped for “a return to normalcy” in IHK.
For the BJP mandarins who insist ‘all is well’ there, this rather mild criticism from the world’s sole superpower is unlikely to go down well, and it will be interesting to see if the issue is brought up during Ms Wells’ visit.
India is desperately trying to show the world that things are running normally in IHK, when clearly this is not the case. The internet blockade has been in force for over 160 days, crippling daily life in the region. However, New Delhi recently organised a ‘guided tour’ of occupied Kashmir for foreign diplomats, an exercise that was boycotted by envoys of the EU, even though the US ambassador participated.
The EU diplomats apparently turned down the invitation because they were not allowed to meet detained Kashmiri politicians. If India has nothing to hide, why is it not allowing European officials to freely tour IHK and interact with people?
Moreover, last year a group of far-right members of the European Parliament were invited to visit IHK by Indian NGOs; the trip was little more than a farce as some of the most xenophobic and Islamophobic parties of Europe were invited to tell the world that everything was wonderful in IHK. It is hoped that the US presses the Modi regime to end the siege of Kashmir.
The communications blockade has destroyed the region’s economy and made the lives of ordinary Kashmiris even more miserable as they remain mostly cut off from the world. The brutal treatment of Kashmiris, as well as the Islamophobic citizenship law and national register, have exposed the BJP for what it is: a band of bigots masquerading in democratic garb.


Fitch ratings

THE country’s external account and fiscal balance may be improving according to the government, but for reasons larger than this its credit rating has been left unchanged at B negative, near junk levels. The announcement came amid no fanfare from Fitch Ratings, one of the world’s leading credit rating agencies, which cited high inflation, rising fiscal deficit and slow growth among the reasons for its decision. If the economic situation is indeed improving as the government enjoys telling us at every opportunity, why are the rating agencies unable to see this or acknowledge it in their ratings? The answer is simple. Whatever improvement we see is not only shallow but also built on unsustainable foundations. Taxes have been squeezed out of an already exhausted and heavily burdened population by raising the price and sales tax on fuel and power, while the external sector deficit has been narrowed by choking the economy to the point where growth forecasts are now just above 2pc though the government has programmed 4pc in its budget.
The unchanged ratings are the latest evidence that the real work of rectifying the imbalances has not even started. Most of the measures required to put all this on a sustainable footing have not yet begun to be implemented. At some point, the macroeconomic adjustment under way to bridge the deficits will need to end and the policy framework move towards promoting growth. If the right reforms have not been implemented, the buffers that are being built on the fiscal and external side through this painful period will dissipate very quickly. We know this because every other government has left behind the same story. This time it must be different, first because we owe it to ourselves to break this cycle once and for all, and second, because this government came to power on the promise of change. The unchanged rating tells us that the successes they are touting at the moment may not be as deep as they would like us to believe.


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