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Dawn Editorial 28 January 2020

Trouble in Punjab

PRIME Minister Imran has reportedly said an ‘organised mafia’ is spreading negativity and crippling positive administrative changes in the country and that he is well aware who this mafia is.
Meeting with party members in Lahore, the prime minister said his party would take no pressure and Usman Buzdar would continue to work as the chief minister of Punjab. He was also emphatic in saying the chief secretary and IG police would work as a team with the chief minister.
The prime minister’s visit to Lahore came at a time when there is a growing perception that Usman Buzdar’s government is failing to perform and is suffering from political instability.
Recent grumblings from key allies like the PML-Q have fanned the flames of dissension within the Punjab coalition ranks. The prime minister was expected to resolve these issues through personal intervention and take decisions aimed at stopping the plunging fortunes of the Buzdar government.
Instead, however, the prime minister decided to blame ‘mafias’ for all the troubles that his government is facing in Punjab. He did not deem it necessary to elaborate on who these mafias are, how they are so effective in creating problems plaguing the Buzdar government and why they have not been stopped from making such mischief.
In fact, the prime minister did not even specify if he had any plans to counter these ‘mafias’ and, in the absence of such a plan, how would these troubles swirling around his chief minister disappear?
The only substantive announcement that we heard was that Buzdar would stay in office and that the political disconnect between the elected representatives and the bureaucracy would be eliminated.
These are pious words, but words alone are clearly insufficient to solve the governance quagmire in Punjab.
It would be a hard sell for the PTI leadership to blame the opposition for its failure in Punjab. All that is going wrong in Punjab is a by-product of what the ruling coalition has done or, more specifically, not done.
Now that the prime minister has announced that his team will remain where it is in Punjab, one expects that he will tell us how this team plans to improve the dismal situation in the province. Doing more of the same, or aiming for vague targets like ‘better coordination’, is clearly not the answer.
The answer, sadly, remains elusive. The ruling coalition has a razor-thin majority in the Punjab assembly, and if the allies run out of patience with the Buzdar government, they could exercise options that may pose serious danger to the chief minister.
The PML-Q has said it does not want to walk out from the coalition, but that does not mean all is well. The prime minister might want to absorb the gravity of the situation in Punjab and come up with specific solutions.


Student unions

JUST when it needed to lend support, the Higher Education Commission has instead vocalised its opposition to the restoration of student unions in educational institutions. In an official document, the HEC stated that it would prefer students across the country to occupy their minds with poetry, music and sports rather than then wasting their time with politics. While the former are all noble and necessary pursuits, this does not mean that political activity cannot be a ‘healthy’ exercise or that it should be discouraged on this basis. Politics is not a ‘dirty’ word, and such perceptions (particularly entrenched within the middle and upper classes over the past few decades), need to be challenged. This cannot happen by creating apolitical spaces — indeed, there is no such thing — but by creating better ways of doing and thinking about politics.
When Gen Ziaul Haq banned student unions in 1984, the reason provided was that such bodies lead to violence on campuses. Yet violence intensified even after the ban, with the reactionary student wings of mainstream political parties threatening and enforcing their ideologies on others through brute force. Last year, scores of students attached to progressive movements took to the streets to demand the restoration of student unions. Their voices and concerns cannot simply be dismissed without a greater debate, which involves students as the main stakeholders, especially at a time when issues such as sexual harassment on campuses are being talked about. As a result of their agitation, the Sindh cabinet approved a draft of the Sindh Students Union Act, 2019, which would allow for the revival of student unions in the province. Members of the Balochistan Assembly have also called for a similar legislature. Cultivating a culture of robust debate and a respect for differences of opinion are not only vital to any functioning democracy, they are also the very foundations of a healthy society. And this needs to begin at the campus level, which should ideally be safe spaces for new thought, exercises in community-building, and a connection with the issues plaguing their societies — and not simply a place that encourages the individualistic pursuit of grades and pits one student against another in a spirit of competitiveness and thoughtless compliance. We have to consider what kind of future we are cultivating right now.


Media crisis

TO say that the Pakistani media is going through a grave crisis would be an understatement. The drop in revenues and stagnant state of the national economy overall has had a devastating effect on the country’s media organisations, with salaries slashed and hundreds of workers laid off. To add to this, many organisations have not paid their employees for weeks, if not months. When there are bills to pay and mouths to feed and the bank account is empty, the effect on people’s mental and physical health can be shattering. Over the past few months, many journalists and media workers have struggled to bear the stress of unforgivably delayed salaries. Last week, Fayyaz Ali, a cameraman at Capital TV, passed away due to a heart attack, perhaps caused by the stress of not receiving his dues for several months. The PM’s special assistant Firdous Ashiq Awan condoled with the late worker’s family the other day, observing that a databank would be created to keep track of workers whose salaries had not been paid. The late worker’s employer announced compensation for his family, while Ms Awan said his brother would be given a job in the information ministry.
Perhaps if the channel and government had acted earlier, Fayyaz Ali would be alive today. While media houses must explain why they are holding up salaries for months on end, the government also cannot be absolved of blame in this matter, especially when it withholds ads — and, worse still, outstanding dues amounting to hundreds of millions of rupees — as a political tool. Moreover, Pemra needs to play a more proactive role in ensuring that TV channels, where the issue of delayed salaries is most acute, pay dues on time. If media organisations refuse to do so, perhaps their licenses should be cancelled. Instead of making whimsical pronouncements, Pemra needs to focus on making the government pay its dues, and hold off on issuing new licenses until the crisis subsides and the media industry’s health improves.


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