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Dawn Editorial 18 February 2020

Shooting the messenger

TO shoot the messenger is the go-to tactic for authoritarian leaders; facts are anathema if inconsistent with the airbrushed version of reality they choose to project. When the government demonises the media as the ‘enemy’, it creates a buffer against the public being informed of inconvenient truths and against poor governance or corruption being exposed.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s diatribes against the press have become increasingly frequent and hostile. On Saturday, during a chat with journalists, he claimed he had endured “media attacks” over the past two years, singling out the Dawn and Jang media houses as having, in his words, published “false stories” against him and his government.
In the same breath, he rightly described the media as “an important pillar of democracy” — which makes his discrediting of the press all the more ironic. Presumably, in the prime minister’s eyes, only a media uncritical of his government’s performance is a pillar of democracy; only a media that fawns over him, as it did during his long dharna in 2014, is tolerable. Now in the ‘hot seat’ himself as the country’s chief executive, Mr Khan — his well-documented aversion to criticism on full display — has even advised the people to refrain from watching TV talk shows and reading newspapers.
Democratic dispensations do not have the luxury of a victim narrative; they must defend their performance before the public on the basis of facts. However, Mr Khan demonstrates a woeful lack of understanding of the media’s function as a conduit of information — whether favourable or otherwise to the government of the day — and, if it acquits itself well, as a watchdog for the public interest.
Certainly, it is possible that inaccuracies may have crept into some coverage, and a few newspaper columns may not have been to the government’s liking. But to accuse the media of having some ‘agenda’ against it is ridiculous and smacks of rising frustration in PTI ranks. The government should not hide behind wild accusations, such as those by Mr Khan’s media aide that 20 “baseless news” had appeared in Dawn and Jang in the recent past.
Which stories were these? The publications concerned have a right to know and defend themselves.
The state’s desire to bring the media to heel is most clearly manifested in its arbitrary, unacceptable and illegal strategy since last December of denying government ads — as have done some previous administrations — to certain outlets that refuse to be dictated to. While the approach is being tacitly applied at the federal level, and KP and Punjab too have resorted to unannounced bans, there is no doubt the orders have come from the very top. The prime minister must rethink his short-sighted approach, immediately lift the ban and engage with media leaders. Power is ephemeral, and Mr Khan should consider that one day he may once again need a free press.


FATF meeting

THE Financial Action Task Force meeting is under way in Paris and its agenda includes a decision on Pakistan’s status.
It was in 2018 that Pakistan was put on the grey list and asked to crack down on terror financing and money laundering.
Pakistan initiated a series of reforms in this respect but in 2019, FATF declared that Pakistan had still not fulfilled the requirements and therefore was given more time.
In the worst-case scenario, if Pakistan was found to have failed in undertaking all the steps demanded by FATF, it would be put on the blacklist.
This would translate into extremely grave consequences in every sense of the word.
Since 2018, Pakistan has, however, displayed significant progress and FATF appears to have recognised this.
Among many steps, Pakistan has also legislated laws that will strengthen efforts to curb terror financing.
In addition, there has also been commendable headway in tightening the noose around terror outfits and prosecuting them successfully through the criminal justice system.
The recent conviction of Hafiz Saeed, leader of the JuD, has been recognised by the United States and other countries as a major achievement by Pakistan.
There is little doubt now that Pakistan is displaying utmost seriousness in cleaning its stables and laying a financial, legal and administrative infrastructure that would comply with FATF standards for squeezing terror funding.
No one would disagree there is still a lot that needs to be done.
However, Pakistan has proved through its actions that it has the will and determination to see through these reforms till the end.
What the FATF needs to recognise and acknowledge is the enormity of the task at hand and the sincerity with which Pakistan is going about it.
It is no secret that India has tried its best to push Pakistan onto the blacklist.
However, Pakistan’s substantive performance in fulfilling FATF requirements has blocked such Indian efforts.
Friendly countries have also played a positive role in ensuring that FATF looks at Pakistan’s case purely on merit and is not influenced by Indian mischief.
Based on this, it is high time that FATF reward Pakistan for its commendable efforts and remove its name from the grey list.
This would incentivise Pakistan to expedite its efforts and also send a strong signal to the world that the country means what it says.
The Paris meeting should make the call. Pakistan deserves to be off the grey list.


Suicide watch

RECENTLY, the Sindh police released its province-wide data on the number of suicides that took place in the past five years. According to their findings, nearly 1,287 people — including 586 women — took their own life, with the vast majority between the ages of 21 and 40. The highest numbers of suicides were recorded in Mirpurkhas, with a total of 646 cases; nearly half of them were women. This was followed by Hyderabad, which recorded a total of 299 suicides, including 116 women. The apparent reasons behind the suicides varied: some were caught in the cycle of poverty and unemployment; others were trapped in unhappy marriages or suffered domestic abuse; and then there were those addicted to drugs. Many would have suffered from mental health issues, but it is difficult to know the nature or details of it. In Pakistan, the issue continues to be heavily stigmatised. As a result, many suffer silently and are reluctant to speak about their ailments to those around them out of fear of judgement or cruelty. This has created a climate where people repress, deflect or deny their psychological struggles. For the vast majority of citizens, mental health treatment remains pricey, inaccessible and out of the question.
Even with all these other issues facing the mental health debate, what is most shocking is that a high number of these suicides were committed by members of the Hindu minority, according to police, which form only a fraction of the total population. Whether suicide is to be attributed to a history of severe mental health issues that are neglected, or as a means of escaping oppressive structures — patriarchy, poverty or religious and caste-based discrimination — people have little to no control over high rates of suicide, reflecting a failure of society as a whole. Before we tell other countries how to treat their marginalised communities, we should perhaps take a hard look at what it means to be a minority in Pakistan.


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