PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has taken the right step to order all advisers and special assistants to the prime minister to declare their assets and nationalities. This step is in line with his long-held position on ensuring transparency in the running of the government. The declaration of these assets and nationalities may have triggered a debate but it is the right debate to have in order to settle some long-standing issues and bring much-needed clarity to the prevailing ambiguity. The most glaring instance of such ambiguity is the issue of dual nationals working in important government positions.
Article 63 (1)(c) of the Constitution very clearly states that people holding dual nationalities cannot become members of parliament. This means elected members of the cabinet can also not be dual nationals. However, non-elected members who sit in cabinet meetings have so far evaded this restriction. It may be time to review this anomaly. The logic behind disbarring dual nationals from holding positions that enable access to classified information is a sound one. Legally speaking, dual nationals have split loyalties because they have taken an oath of allegiance in two countries. This logic can easily be applied to those non-elected people who sit in cabinet meetings and exercise executive functions in the running of ministries and divisions. They may argue — as some have — that they are not proper members of the cabinet and are invited by the prime minister for each meeting, but this is at best a technical argument aimed at justifying the anomaly. The advisers and SAPMs have the same access to policymaking and classified information that other cabinet members enjoy. This makes their role within the government as dual nationals highly problematic.
This is not to say that dual nationals cannot contribute to public service in the country. Pakistan has a very large diaspora across the world and many overseas Pakistanis continue to excel in their respective fields. Their talents and experience can be invaluable for public service. However, if such service were to include elected responsibilities then parliament will need to review the bar against dual nationals contesting elections. But even if parliament voted to amend the constitutional provision and allow dual nationals to become legislators, it would still be difficult to apply the same logic to both elected and non-elected members of the cabinet on account of their access to sensitive matters of state. It is then morally wrong for dual nationals to stay as members of the cabinet. Now that it is officially known which SAPMs within the federal cabinet hold dual nationality, it is advisable for the prime minister to review their status in the light of his own previously held position against dual nationals in key positions. The prime minister should find their replacements and utilise their services in any capacity outside the cabinet. He should live up to his own words.
IT is impossible to avoid the topic of the missing people of Balochistan for too long. An estimated 5,000 people are on Balochistan’s list of the disappeared. Every now and then, there is a new story about a person who has gone missing or a follow-up of an older one about someone who had disappeared a long time ago. This is how it has been for many years; there has been no reprieve for those who have been in perennial protest mode ever since they staged their inaugural demonstration against forced disappearances outside the Quetta Press Club 11 years ago. The daily protest sit-in began there on June 28, 2009, after Dr Deen Mohammad went missing, notes Reuters in a feature. Most tellingly, the news agency also describes how the recent attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi “came a day after hundreds of relatives of missing Baloch gathered in Quetta to mark the four thousandth day of their protest since the disappearance of Dr Deen Mohammad”. The mention of the militants and the protesters in the same breath would indicate how easy it is to conflate the two. While it is true that there is a history of state oppression, economic deprivation and provincial partisanship behind the long-running Baloch insurgency led by organisations adamant to carry out terrorist attacks, often in the name of the disappeared, it is the latter that must be treated as a human rights issue. For too long have people been picked up, never to be heard of again, or their mutilated bodies found months later. Many, including the families of the victims, have accused the state which has yet to institute a fair system of justice and accountability for those it deems dangerous.
There are fears that the latest upsurge in high-profile militant action by certain groups claiming to represent the ‘deprived’ sections of the Baloch population could well lead to hasty policy decisions. And indeed there are several instances of typecasting on the basis of caste, creed, ethnicity etc. The answer lies in the opposite direction. Elements in the equation must be separated — there are those who have protested peacefully for years and then there are the angry young men determined to target state institutions and interests. This should be followed by implementing a fair, transparent formula to engage first with those who are ready to talk and then go on towards the angrier sections.
Vandalising the Buddha
A VIDEO of a group of men vandalising a centuries-old statue of the Buddha in Mardan shows the extent to which intolerance and ignorance have permeated our society. Recently, four men were digging in the district’s Takht-i-Bahi area — a Unesco World Heritage Site containing relics from the Gandhara civilisation — when they came across a life-sized idol of the Buddha. The video shows the men taking a hammer and smashing the statue to pieces. The reason behind this savage act, according to initial reports, was the incitement from a local cleric. District police sprang into action when the video went viral on social media. They have arrested the four men who appear to have acted together to destroy the statue.
Not only is the incident a painful reminder of how respect for minority religious beliefs is shrinking in the country, it also shows an ugly side of Pakistan to the world. Buddhist tourists from many countries in recent years have travelled to Mardan to marvel at the artefacts in Takht-i-Bahi where archaeologists have dug up hundreds of relics over the years. That some people can so easily and mindlessly destroy a 1,700-year-old relic out of foolishness and abhorrence for faiths other than their own points to the failure of the local administration to educate the public about the significance of such artefacts. In the past, two Buddhist statues had been found in Sheikh Yousaf village of District Mardan when people were digging a grave — statues which were handed over to officials of the archaeological department. Unfortunately, when the latest statue was discovered, instead of informing officials, the men smashed it and even captured their vandalism on a phone camera. The mindset that allows such an act to take place and be documented is one born of intolerance and bigotry. The culprits must be punished, according to the law, and the administration should reflect on its failure to educate the public about the religious and historical significance of these relics.