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Dawn Editorial 16 September 2020

Public hanging is no remedy

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan must not allow himself to be swept along on the emotions of an enraged public. Even while acknowledging that the motorway gang rape last week has understandably touched a raw nerve, he should advocate systemic change to tackle such crimes, a much more productive course of action rather than adding to the lynch mob atmosphere.
Yet during a television interview on Monday, Mr Khan called for publicly hanging those who sexually abuse women and children, although he did follow it up with the caveat that such punishment was not “internationally acceptable” and could cost Pakistan its GSP-Plus trade status. As the leader of a country that not long ago witnessed the horror of public executions carried out by bloodthirsty militants, he should be doubly aware of the optics of advocating such punishment, even if only in cases of rape.
Public hangings are neither an immediate nor a long-term answer to any crime (this paper on principle opposes the death penalty in any form), a fact that most criminologists worth their salt would confirm. Such a spectacle would only serve to include us among the most brutalised of societies, where the desire for vengeance outweighs the desire for justice.
Even the prime minister’s proposal that sex offenders be chemically castrated ignores the very relevant fact that the conviction rate in rape cases, which are already grossly under-reported, is a measly 3pc. Why is this so? Because police investigations are defective and blatantly compromised and the justice system has little interest in seeing justice done.
Read: The motorway rape case has exposed once again the failure of our law-enforcement and legal systems
Going by the most recent developments, and assuming that the police have zeroed in on the right suspects, it is clear that when their feet are held to the fire, law-enforcement agencies can perform the way they are supposed to. Had they done so earlier in the case of one of the suspects, described as a ‘habitual rapist’, he may not have been free to commit his latest alleged rape and several women would have been spared the ordeal they were put through.
According to law enforcement, this individual was also involved in a gang rape case in 2013 but, outrageously enough, was released from custody after compromise between the two parties. Under the law, rape is a non-compoundable offence. The example of many countries lies before us: it is the certainty of punishment, not its severity that acts as a deterrent to crime.
Meanwhile, what can better illustrate the extent of the rot in Pakistan’s law enforcement that the Lahore High Court chief justice has warned the CCPO Lahore against extrajudicial killing of the suspects in the motorway gang rape case? The attorney general on Monday made some eminently sensible observations about our flawed and inequitable criminal justice system. Only structural and procedural changes can make it one that actually serves the people.



Back to school

YESTERDAY, after a six-month hiatus, many schools, colleges and universities across the country opened their doors to cautiously welcome a new term. This was in compliance with the government’s decision to reopen educational institutions in phases across the country, beginning with higher education institutions, vocational training centres, and classes 9 to 12. Next week, classes 6 to 8 will resume; while primary schools will reopen a week after that. It is true that Pakistan has had relatively fewer cases of the novel coronavirus compared to other countries, and some of the initial fears surrounding the virus have dissipated. But the threat remains intact, and there can be a resurgence of Covid-19 cases if care is not taken. As the classes resumed, Sindh reported over 340 new cases of the virus, and three deaths. Meanwhile, Punjab reported 57 new Covid-19 cases and three fatalities in the span of 24 hours. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Faisal Sultan tweeted a reminder to parents, teachers, school administrators and students to practise three steps in order to curtail the threat: “[m]asks, reduced density in classes, [and] hand hygiene”. Earlier, at a press conference, Dr Sultan had recommended that the number of students in a classroom be reduced, and that lessons be taught in shifts, so that social distancing could be maintained. It is absolutely vital that all SOPs are followed to the tee, including avoiding crowds, regularly disinfecting surfaces, not sharing belongings, taking handwashing breaks, and ensuring thermal gun screenings at entrance points. If possible, some classes could be conducted outdoors.
While it may be a challenge to enforce the SOPs, the provincial governments must ensure compliance at both state and private levels, and teachers and administrators must remain vigilant. But while children have suffered and missed out on their education — lack of internet access and poor connectivity being major constraints — virus symptoms are mainly seen in older age groups, and it is the teachers and staff that are perhaps at greater risk. The All Pakistan Private Schools Federation has already voiced its concerns, citing the financial burden of ensuring all SOPs are followed. And one college and hostel in Islamabad was sealed after 16 Covid-19 cases were reported on the first day back; in Toba Tek Singh, seven government school teachers tested positive for the virus. However, if a resurgence in cases is recorded, then the government will need to reconsider or modify its position.



Industrial ambitions

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan’s declaration of Pakistan entering a new industrialisation phase has to be tempered with reality. There’s no doubt that the opportunities are enormous as he pointed out while inaugurating the Rashakai Economic Zone, one of the four priority SEZs being developed under the CPEC initiative. Yet there’s a lot of spadework that still has to be done before the fruits of the venture can mature. Pakistan has pinned too many hopes on SEZs. For example, the government is expecting massive Chinese investments in these zones. Global experience shows that SEZs, geographically defined and delimited industrial areas, are an important vehicle for wooing investments by offering investors attractive fiscal and policy incentives to boost exports and encourage transfer of technology. But the experience of various countries also shows that the development of industrial estates and incentives are never enough to attract investors — foreign or domestic. That is true for Pakistan as well.
In spite of implementing an extensive legal framework through the SEZ Act of 2012 and later amending it in 2016 to make it more attractive for investors, the government is struggling to get the desired results. The main reason is its failure to ‘insulate’ potential investors from the jurisdiction of the country’s state institutions and laws to give them a sense of security. That means that potential investors will enjoy certain incentives and a few other facilities their counterparts operating outside the zones don’t have, but would continue to face an otherwise regressive business environment. If the government wants the SEZs to work and bring in FDI, especially in the case of Chinese firms looking to relocate outside their country, it will have to convert these SEZs into ‘industrial islands’ with transparent, strict and independent rules of business for facilitating and regulating investors. Without protecting investors from the overall, business-unfriendly environment and the reach of state agencies, it will be difficult to attract investment, especially FDI.


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