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Dawn Editorial 20 January 2020

US-Taliban deal

THERE appears to be some movement in the on-again, off-again Afghan peace process, as the Americans are currently talking to the Afghan Taliban in Doha; meanwhile, there are reports that the insurgents have agreed to reduce the level of hostilities against the US forces. In fact, a longer-lasting peace deal may also be in the works, ready to be signed by the end of this month. As there have been several false dawns on this front in the past, the news should be greeted with guarded optimism since both sides — the Taliban and the Trump administration — are known to be impulsive and unpredictable. For example, the Afghan militia have in the past stepped up attacks even as they sued for peace, while President Donald Trump ripped up a deal last year as preparations were under way to invite the Taliban to the US to sign it. However, such ups and downs are to be expected, and the tortured Afghan saga, which has been continuing for decades, cannot be untangled in days or weeks.
The days ahead will show if the Taliban make good on their promise to reduce acts of violence, and whether or not the Americans decide to go ahead and ink a more permanent peace deal. However, it should be noted that leaving out the Kabul government from any permanent Afghan settlement is not a good idea. The Taliban have said they may initiate an intra-Afghan dialogue which could include the Ashraf Ghani-led dispensation after a ceasefire has been signed with the Americans. This appears to be a softening in the militia’s tone, as previously the Taliban have used uncharitable terms for the Kabul government, describing the setup as puppets of the Americans. The fact is that all sides in this brutal conflict — the Taliban, the Kabul government, other Afghan factions, the Americans and their foreign cohorts — are visibly fatigued after decades of war. And most importantly, the Afghan people have witnessed enough death and destruction as global powers and their own compatriots have fought bloody battles in their forsaken land, taking a heavy toll on the country and its population. There seems to be a feeling on all sides that enough is enough. Meanwhile, even more vicious actors, such as the local chapter of the militant Islamic State group, are waiting in the wings to take advantage of the chaos and establish themselves in Afghanistan’s ungoverned spaces.
For peace to succeed, all Afghan factions, as well as the government and foreign forces, must pledge to end the hostilities. If such confidence-building measures succeed, a grand Afghan reconciliation process should be initiated, so that all legitimate political players can come together and forge a peaceful path for their country. All of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as world powers, must support such a process as insecurity within the country will spell insecurity in the whole region.


Senate furore

TO denounce ‘honour killings’ while at the same time defending the concepts in which they are rooted, is perverse, illogical and dangerous. But that is precisely what Senator Mohsin Aziz tried to do on Friday during a discussion on the annual report of the National Commission on Women when he said that “honour killings are a problem”, but honour and culture are important too. In other words, he proved himself an apologist for this vile practice. Senator Aziz went on to condemn the NGOs behind last year’s Aurat March — an event that has aroused much moral panic for its display of women’s refusal to abide by their ‘prescribed’ role and conform to society’s double standards. In fact, the senator disparaged the entire women’s rights movement in the country as being led by an elite class that in any case already enjoyed the rights they were supposedly agitating for. Fortunately, Senator Aziz’s reprehensible words met with a fiery response from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Sherry Rehman, who denounced the view that cultural norms justify the oppression of women in any form. The upper house, she said, must adopt a bipartisan approach to unequivocally condemn the practice of honour killing. Senator Rehman also paid fulsome tribute to the women’s rights activists who, she pointed out, fought not for themselves but for those who did not have a voice to defend themselves against gender-based violence.
In a patriarchal society, culture is a convenient catch-all to justify keeping women confined to a limited, stereotypical role. Most distressing of all, the notion of honour within that cultural landscape demands that women pay the price with their lives so that men can ‘avenge’ any perceived ‘dishonour’ to the family name. This category of murder — often even resorted to as a ruse for achieving worldly objectives — is a tragic reality. In terms of legislation to protect women from regressive social mores and ensure their rights as equal citizens, Pakistan has come a long way, including enacting a law to deal specifically with honour killings. However, as Friday’s exchange illustrates, there is still much ground to cover where cultural attitudes are concerned. Progressive elements must continue to push back firmly. The prospect of female agency and autonomy, particularly with respect to the right to choose a life partner, threatens to upend the existing patriarchal norms of society. And patriarchy does not give up its privileges easily.


Harsh sentences

THE other day, an anti-terrorism court sentenced 86 TLP workers to 55 years in prison, along with the imposition of a hefty fine and the seizure of their assets. Following disruptive protests that erupted across the country after the release in 2018 of Asiya Bibi — a Christian woman who had spent a decade behind bars on false blasphemy charges — a number of demonstrators affiliated with the party were taken into custody, including the brother and nephew of TLP chairman Khadim Hussain Rizvi. They have now been convicted under several counts. These include: obstructing a public servant from discharging his duties; disobeying legal orders; attempted murder; assaulting public servants; criminal trespassing; and damaging public property. Should those who were found guilty of these charges be punished? Yes, they should be, but surely the punishment must be in proportion to the crime. That is only fair. As it stands, the rulings of the anti-terrorism court are far too harsh — and, on another note, they may also create sympathy for an admittedly intolerant outfit. Moreover, it is unlikely that all 86 convicts, or even a majority of them, attempted to commit murder, the most serious of the crimes listed in the charge sheet. Glaringly, there were no charges against the party activists for making incendiary speeches, something many politicians — encouraged by violent protests — have indulged in throughout the years. It almost seems as if the protesters are being punished for something else.
Resultantly, the verdict brings into question the rationale behind the perpetuation of justice systems, notably in the form of anti-terrorism courts, which deny the accused bail, and usually extend the harshest of punishments. The previous chief justice rightly questioned the broad use of ‘terrorism’ to prosecute a wide range of crimes. In the past, there have been instances of cybercrime and theft being prosecuted under the anti-terrorism laws. Justice must remain impartial and not be swayed by popular demands of quick and overly severe punishment being administered to convicts.


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