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Dawn Editorial 27 March 2020

Al Azhar fatwa must be heeded

ONE of Islam’s premier seats of learning, Al Azhar in Egypt, is considered by most Muslims to be the gold standard where matters of faith are concerned.
One would have hoped, therefore, that the fatwa by the institution permitting suspension of congregational prayers in Pakistan to control the spread of the coronavirus would have been heeded.
However, it seems that President Alvi’s meeting yesterday with religious scholars across the country to discuss that possibility has not changed their stance.
The outcome, according to the government, is that prayers will be ‘restricted’ and the elderly and the sick advised to pray at home.
Such half-baked measures will cost us dearly.
Other Muslim countries — Saudi Arabia and Iran among them — have already suspended congregational prayers, even while members of Pakistan’s clergy refused to countenance a measure that will save lives.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, given the kind of influence the religious lobby wields in Pakistan, the federal and provincial governments have been dithering over the issue.
However, Sindh, which has been the most proactive in handling the crisis, yesterday decided to discard its hitherto tentative approach and take the responsible step of temporarily banning all congregational prayers in the province.
Restricting person-to-person contact is the only way to disrupt the relentless pace of coronavirus transmission.
No lockdown can be effective if exceptions are made for certain types of gatherings, especially in a situation where even those who are asymptomatic can infect others.
Any place where people congregate is like a petri dish facilitating the spread of the contagion.
A substantial majority of cases so far recorded in the country can be traced to Pakistanis returning from pilgrimage to Iran; the rate of infection among them was exacerbated by the squalid conditions in which many were ‘quarantined’ in Taftan.
Then there was the first Covid-19 fatality in Pakistan, an individual already presenting with symptoms of the disease upon his return from Saudi Arabia after performing umrah.
At his village in KP, he attended a celebratory feast with 2,000 guests.
Reportedly, around 40 of 46 tests performed so far on those with whom he came into contact have turned out positive.
Another example is that of at least a dozen Tableeghi Jamaat members found to be infected after attending the Jamaat’s annual conference in Raiwind where tens of thousands congregate.
Entire villages are being quarantined as more and more cases of community transmission are discovered.
To see what could lie in store for us, we need only look at the horrific scenes playing out in Europe, with hospitals struggling to cope and morgues filled to capacity.
Imagine that happening in a country like ours, where the health system at the best of times is appallingly inadequate.
If every loophole that allows close contact among people is not plugged, the worst of times lie before us.

 
 

Sikh killings

IN a bloody display of the havoc the self-styled Islamic State group is still capable of spreading, at least 25 people were massacred in an attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul on Wednesday. The attack was claimed by the terrorist group. Afghanistan is of course no stranger to violence, but the killings demonstrate that unless various contenders for power in the country get their act together, IS will exploit the vacuum of leadership to spread its tentacles further in the region. After all, it has been responsible for the savage acts of violence carried out in its Middle Eastern heartland against both Muslims and followers of other faiths, in keeping with its brutal ideology. While the self-proclaimed caliphate has largely been routed in Syria and Iraq — where it initially emerged — it is now trying to establish itself in other ungoverned spaces, and Afghanistan offers a prime location unless a workable peace deal takes effect and all parties abide by it. Pakistan has condemned the attack on the Sikh place of worship, with the Foreign Office stressing that “such despicable attacks have no political, religious or moral justification”.
The fact is that unless there is intra-Afghan understanding and reconciliation — both between the Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah blocs, as well as the Afghan government and the Taliban — IS and other militant groups that do not believe in the political process will be free to spread havoc. That is why a lasting peace agreement between various Afghan factions is essential. Unfortunately, the power struggle playing out currently in Kabul does not offer much hope. While Mr Ghani was declared the winner of last September’s presidential election, his chief rival Mr Abdullah dismissed the results and has proclaimed himself leader of the country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Kabul this week to try and patch things up between the two factions, but had to fly back to Washington without achieving much. Instead, he announced a cut of $1bn in aid to Afghanistan as ‘punishment’, which is sure to hurt the cash-strapped country. “The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan,” Mr Pompeo told the media. Indeed, unless the Kabul elite achieve some sort of unity, the US peace deal with the Taliban will count for little as Afghan factions battle it out after the Americans leave. Such a situation will only favour IS and their ilk.

 
 

Media owner’s remand

AN accountability court has extended the physical remand of Jang group editor-in-chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman to NAB for another 15 days. A NAB prosecutor submitted an application to the court seeking further remand and argued that investigators wanted to record statements of some more officials, and therefore further custody of Mr Rehman was required. Given the nature of the case and the allegations made against Mr Rehman, it makes scant sense for NAB to hold him in custody. The investigations were in the initial stages and as such there was no real need for arresting Mr Rehman. In addition, he was fully cooperating with the investigation and presenting himself to NAB whenever summoned. Arrests are justified when there is a genuine concern that the suspect will either abscond or be able to influence the course of the investigation from outside. None of these conditions applied to Mr Rehman and yet the chairman NAB found it necessary to sanction such an extreme step.
This is why the entire episode smacks of ulterior motives. It is no secret that the Jang Group has been critical of the present setup and has found itself out of favour for some time. It has also been deprived of official advertisements and has been enduring pressures of various kinds. In this backdrop, the arrest of Mr Rehman in a three-decade-old case, and that too in the very initial stages of investigation, casts dark shadows over the intentions of those who sanctioned it. The Pakistani media has been bearing the brunt of official ire for a while now, and the incarceration of Mr Rehman further fuels the impression. It would be in the fitness of things for NAB to cease demanding further remand as no good reason exists for it to keep Mr Rehman in custody. He deserves to be freed on bail so he can properly contest the charges against him in a court of law. By prolonging his detention without solid proof of any wrongdoing on his part, NAB is only earning a bad name for itself.

 

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