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Dawn Editorial 24 February 2020

Afghanistan deal

AFTER a series of hiccups and near misses, it appears that a deal between the Afghan Taliban and the Americans is finally on the horizon.
On Friday, both sides announced that a weeklong partial truce would take effect from Saturday, and if all went well the rival sides would sign a longer-lasting agreement in the Qatari capital of Doha on Feb 29.
If things go as planned, this could indeed be a historic opportunity to end bloodshed in Afghanistan and start the process of rebuilding the battered country.
After all, the Americans have been in Afghanistan since 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, and dislodged the Taliban which were then ruling Kabul.
Since then, the US and its foreign allies have become the biggest power brokers in Afghanistan, in actuality underwriting the government in Kabul, whereas the Taliban hold considerable territory and in places wield more power than the Afghan government.
Therefore, any peace deal between the US and the Taliban would transform the Afghan equation considerably, and hopefully pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue.
It is quite clear that Washington is ready for a deal; after all the recent op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani — who leads the Haqqani Network, a part of the Taliban and an organisation branded as a terrorist outfit by the US — in The New York Times indicates that the American establishment has accepted the Taliban as a legitimate player.
Interestingly, not too long ago the US had put relentless pressure on this country for ‘sheltering’ the Haqqanis. This only shows that in the fluid world of international politics, perceptions and designations can change very, very quickly.
“Everyone is tired of war,” wrote Mr Haqqani in his florid op-ed, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said that following the partial truce the “US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward”.
Indeed, the Taliban, though no strangers to violence, are in nature quite different to militant groups such as Al Qaeda or IS, mainly because the Afghan group has a nationalist outlook and wants the exit of Americans from their country, while the latter outfits have grander, pan-Islamic designs.
It is also a welcome sign that the Taliban have pledged to talk to the Afghan government if the deal with the Americans succeeds. In fact, any lasting peace in Afghanistan is unlikely to succeed unless the process is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, and the multiple ethnic and tribal stakeholders in that country are all on board.
However, if the Kabul power elite is to hammer out a successful deal with the Taliban, it needs to put its own house in order.
There has been much acrimony following the Afghan presidential election, with Abdullah Abdullah not accepting the results and questioning President Ashraf Ghani’s victory.
If there is another power struggle in Kabul, it is unlikely that a lasting peace agreement in Afghanistan can succeed.


Curtailing ordinances

FORMER Senate chairman Raza Rabbani has sought an amendment to the law dealing with the power of the president to promulgate ordinances. The PPP senator has, through a private member’s bill submitted to the Senate secretariat, sought to add two provisos to Article 89 of the Constitution which allow the president to promulgate ordinances when parliament is not in session or where circumstances emerge that a law becomes imperative. The opposition has been severely criticising the government for its excessive use of ordinances but the rulers have not relented so far. The argument that the government is peddling is that the opposition is not interested in reaching across the aisle in order to legislate on important issues. The opposition, however, maintains that the government has, through its hostile and non-serious attitude, made parliament dysfunctional and therefore resorts to issuing ordinances to cover up for its own inadequacies.
The arguments may carry weight to some extent, but what is undeniable is that the government’s excessive dependency on ordinances is going against the spirit of parliamentary legislation. The law very clearly explains this spirit by stating that presidential ordinances should only be issued when there is an urgent requirement and the normal route of legislation cannot be followed for a genuine reason. The issuance of an ordinance deprives the members of parliament of the opportunity to thoroughly debate the issue at hand, bring in suggestions and recommendations and improve upon the legislation if possible. This also enables a wider public debate and discourse so that the issue can be weighed on the scale of wider public interest. This is how a transparent democratic system is supposed to work. However, while we are all enjoying the trappings of such a system, the substantive part remains weak. This is why the premise of Senator Rabbani’s amendment is correct. The excessive and undue use of ordinances needs to be curtailed, and if this can be done through certain amendments in the existing law then that possibility should be explored with seriousness. The government should take this in the spirit that the amendment is proposed and be ready and willing to debate it with utmost earnestness. Ordinances may be a convenient tool for the government of the day but parliamentarians are expected to think beyond their electoral terms and prioritise the improvement of the democratic system as a whole.


Underage marriages

IN a reassuring move, a court in Jacobabad recently upheld the law by nullifying the marriage of 15-year-old Naniki Kumari, who reportedly converted to Islam from Hinduism, after declaring her to be under the age of marriage as per the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2013. The judgement was given under an inordinate amount of pressure, and amidst tight security, as religious hardliners had been issuing threats to the girl’s family who asked that their daughter be returned to them. Meanwhile, the Hindu community of Jacobabad had been holding demonstrations against the marriage of the girl, which they feel comes in a long line of similar cases of girls and young women being kidnapped, forced to convert and then married against their will. For instance, in 2017, a 14-year-old from Thar was taken away from her family by armed men, converted, and married off to a Muslim man. In each instance, influential seminaries insist that the girls convert of their own free will. Whatever the details of this particular case may be, it is clear that the child is too young to make life-altering decisions such as marriage.
Child marriage continues to be a rampant evil practice in this country, which deprives the girl child of the right to complete her education, and exposes her to a host of health-related complications, rape, domestic abuse and exploitation. Unicef estimates that Pakistan has the sixth highest number of child brides in the world, with approximately 21pc being married off before reaching the age of 18; and 3pc before the age of 15. And yet, apart from Sindh, no other province has increased the age of marriage to 18 years for girls, despite the fact that not doing so is a blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of children inscribed in the many international conventions that Pakistan is signatory to. But each time the issue is brought up there is great opposition from religious groups and male politicians. It is time these critics themselves grew up.


February 24, 2020
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