THE political mudslinging that has ensued over Transparency International’s latest report shows all that is wrong with the way our politics deals with important priorities and its sheer inability to work with numbers and data. The TI ranking shows deterioration in Pakistan’s standing in the world in terms of corruption rankings, going down three notches to 120 out of 180 countries. Last year, Pakistan had ranked at 117. Politicians from the opposition parties seized on this report to taunt the ruling party for failing in its core aim ie the elimination of corruption. To its further discredit, the ruling party’s spokesperson responded by alleging bias at TI, followed by a vitriolic attack on the integrity of the global corruption watchdog. Perhaps it needs to be pointed out to Ms Firdous Ashiq Awan, who made these remarks, that for many years now her own party leaders, including Imran Khan himself, have used the same TI reports and rankings to criticise previous governments and buttress their own claim that corruption alone is responsible for all the ills of society.
The ranking is just a perception index, meaning it is generated from responses given by a set of business executives to questions that are asked of them about their experience of interacting with the government. It is not some kind of a hard measurement of the quantum of corrupt practices in society. It is not an economic indicator like GDP or even the credit rating of the country. In trying to defend her government against the opposition’s attack, Ms Awan actually invoked Moody’s and its recent decision to upgrade the outlook on Pakistan’s credit rating to stable, saying that the action somehow negated the findings of TI. It does not because these are two completely different things. And back when the same rating agencies downgraded Pakistan last December, the ruling party’s members cried foul and alleged bias, with one even trying to argue that the rating agencies were engaged in some sort of fifth-generation warfare being conducted by Pakistan’s enemies.
Undoubtedly, there is need for greater maturity. The opposition can be faulted for incorrectly using the ranking to mock the ruling party, but they were subjected to similar taunts when they were in power and they argue that now it is the PTI’s turn to field the same attacks that it launched on others in the past. The onus is on the ruling party, because it is in power, to show more responsibility when dealing with such attacks. A simple defence would be to point out that the fight against corruption is a long-haul one, and small movements up or down in the rankings in one year is not about how they measure progress. There are significant messages in the TI report, chief among them the importance of campaign finance laws. Perhaps some attention can be focused on these as well.
ON Thursday, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ordered Myanmar to protect its long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim population and “take all measures within its powers” to prevent a genocide from taking place against them. By all means, this judgement is necessary — even if it is delayed. After all, ‘genocide’ is not a word thrown around lightly in such proceedings. And it would not have been possible without the efforts of Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou, who said that the events of recent years — the mass slaughter, rape and displacement of the Rohingya, carried out by the Myanmar military between August 2016 and October 2017, while the government of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi looked on in silence or offered apologetics when pushed to answer — gave him flashbacks of the Rwandan genocide. No genocide can be committed without extended dehumanisation campaigns preceding it. For instance, amidst allegations of rape and sexual violence used by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya women, one Rakhine State minister callously retorted: “Look at those women who are making these claims — would anyone want to rape them?” There is a long history of maltreatment towards “the world’s most persecuted minority”, but most significant was the decision to strip the Rohingya of all formal citizenship in the 1980s. This move essentially rendered them Citizens of Nowhere, with no country to call their own and no rights to speak of. The ambiguity surrounding their identity has not only deprived them of higher education, travel and trade — essentially, making them prisoners in their own land — it has also made them vulnerable to violence which is rooted in Islamophobia and justified using the language of fighting terrorism. For decades, the Rohingya have borne the brunt of state oppression and deep-seated societal prejudice, culminating in the recent brutal campaign which resulted in approximately 800,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution in Myanmar and settled in mostly Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Even in their new lands, where they are relatively safe from physical harm, their lack of formal status continues to trouble them. For instance, in Pakistan, Burmese Muslims are routinely harassed by the police and forced to pay extortion. Without formal citizenship, they also face great hurdles in pursuing higher education and accessing health facilities, thus perpetuating a cycle of poverty.
INFLATION has hit all sectors of society and even the performance of religious rites has been affected by the price hike. As reported in this paper on Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has been told that the cost of performing Haj under the government scheme has shot up by a steep Rs115,000. Now, performing the pilgrimage to the holy sites in Hejaz will cost intending hajis Rs550,000 from the north of the country, and a few thousand rupees less from the southern parts of Pakistan. The Senate committee was told that the cabinet would make the final decision in this regard. It was stated that the sharp rise in Haj cost has been attributed to depreciation of the rupee as well as a hike in taxes related to the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
While religious injunctions state that only those with means are mandated to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives, such a costly government Haj package amounts to depriving the average Pakistani of the chance of performing this key religious requirement. Those with deep pockets can perform privately operated ‘five-star’ pilgrimages every year, but for countless hardworking people who save up their entire lives to be able to perform Haj, the steep price hike will shatter this lifelong dream. The government says it is talking to the Saudi authorities for relaxation of certain taxes on Pakistani pilgrims. These efforts should be followed up, and considering the warm ties between Islamabad and Riyadh, our Saudi friends should consider lowering taxes for Pakistani hajis. Moreover, the government should consider introducing a need-based subsidy for those intending to go for Haj, but who are unable to meet the high cost. Perhaps a qarz-i-hasana model can be adopted in this respect; intending citizens can be given interest-free loans to cover majority of the cost, to be paid back in manageable instalments. The cabinet should consider all available options before making the final decision, and keep the wishes of the average Pakistani in mind when doing so.