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Dawn Editorial 31 July 2020

SAPMs’ resignation

SOME resignations deserve to be celebrated. The two that were submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday do not fall in this category.
Tania Aidrus and Dr Zafar Mirza, special assistants to the prime minister working as team leads in the digital and health domains respectively, announced their resignations via social media citing reasons which may have some basis but clearly do not explain the entirety of the situation. Ms Aidrus referred to her dual nationality as a key factor in her decision while Dr Mirza pointed to the furore over the role of unelected special assistants and advisers as influencing his resignation. He also expressed disappointment at not being able to usher in reforms in the health sector that were his primary reason for accepting the job.
If these reasons are taken at face value — which can only be done partially — even then the ruling party needs to seriously review the fallout of these resignations.
It is fairly clear that neither Ms Aidrus nor Dr Mirza resigned voluntarily. If they were forced out for issues that they have publicly stated, they leave many questions unanswered. The issue of dual nationals serving in key government positions needs to be settled one way or another. The government cannot have it both ways: throwing Ms Aidrus under the bus while retaining other dual nationals as heads of ministries. Such duality will reflect adversely on the government’s credibility and undercut its claims of holding on to principled positions.
In the light of these resignations, all the other SAPMs may want to reconsider their positions and make the right call. Similarly, the prime minister should also take the grumblings of his elected cabinet members against their unelected colleagues seriously. Going by the government’s logic, the resignation of two key people has already delivered a blow to the myth that specialists will do a better job of running ministries. It is advisable that the prime minister strike a proper balance within the cabinet and rethink his overt partiality to unelected technocrats.
These resignations have also, yet again, exposed the groupings and turf wars inside the ruling party. If Ms Aidrus fell victim to such factional fighting, it reflects poorly on the way that the government is run. It also illustrates that the system remains resistant to outside talent regardless of who sits at the top. This is a wrong message for all those who want to contribute towards reforming governance.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was the most vocal supporter of bringing in the best people from across the world to serve in official positions and make a difference. After seeing how two such persons were unceremoniously removed from their positions, most people would think twice before jumping into a system that does not welcome outside talent.

It is an unfortunate situation whichever way one looks at it.

Press Club raid

THE word ‘unprecedented’ is often used in reference to the oppressive tactics being used against the media in this country for the past couple of years. On Monday morning, the authorities breached yet another convention, with the Sindh Rangers conducting a raid on the Karachi Press Club. Upon being questioned, they declared they were conducting ‘full dress rehearsals’ in preparation for a threat alert in the ‘Red Zone’, within which the KPC is also located. No permission was sought from the press club authorities for the exercise. Why did the Sindh Rangers consider themselves entitled to barge into a location that is a hub of journalists in Karachi, indeed a symbol of the freedom of the press? Given the demonisation — not to mention abduction — of ‘recalcitrant’ journalists and the micro-management of the news agenda and its presentation by powerful forces behind the scenes, one can reasonably assume this latest provocation to be yet another attempt to bring the media to heel. Surely the Sindh Rangers would not have conducted such a ‘rehearsal’ unannounced on the premises of the elite Sind Club in the same area?
The incident is reminiscent of events on the night of Nov 8, 2018, when several gunmen in plainclothes had forcibly entered the KPC, harassed the journalists present and searched the premises. It was later claimed that the raid was carried out by CTD personnel in order to arrest a journalist for possession of anti-state and hate literature, and that they had mistakenly ended up at the KPC — a very well-known location — due to “some problem in their GSM locator”. The individual concerned, Nasrullah Khan Chaudhry, was taken into custody the next day and subsequently sentenced to five years in jail by an anti-terrorism court. In April, the Sindh High Court acquitted him. The entire case is symptomatic of the ordeal that the media is being made to suffer, and which was once again in evidence with the Rangers’ raid. The media, or at least some less pliable sections of it, is being painted as inherently suspicious and unworthy of the protections due to it. Even during Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime, the KPC was considered out of bounds for law-enforcement personnel. It says much when the media feels more beleaguered under an ostensibly democratic system than during a military dictatorship. Ultimately, it redounds on the government that it is unable or unwilling to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression.


Harvest of hate

PAKISTAN is plagued by lawlessness, it is often said. This perception is perhaps most heightened when extrajudicial murders are justified, or when unruly mobs attack vulnerable individuals and communities, or when the upholders of the law themselves display brazen disregard for their profession, showering rose petals on criminals. Or when houses of justice themselves become scenes of vigilantism. On Wednesday, a man accused of committing blasphemy was shot dead by his accuser during the hearing of his case at the Peshawar Judicial Complex. According to reports, the complainant asked the accused to recite some religious verses, before drawing out a gun and shooting him on the spot. The deceased was believed to have been suffering from mental health problems. While the full details of the case are yet to be ascertained, there can be no defence for taking the law into one’s own hands, whether committed in the name of religion, honour, or any other cause. Undoubtedly, many will rush to defend or laud the killer, ignoring the high and noble teachings of the religion they claim to follow, by giving in to their baser instincts.
None of this is new. The seeds of intolerance were sowed long ago, and we have been reaping its harvest, as those who claim to act out of love only spread hatred, fear and discord through the land. In order to reverse this self-destructive trajectory, our official and unofficial leadership must not give in to apologetics, and insist on the supremacy of the law. For years, the state has failed to invest in the people’s education — an education that inculcates tolerance, a sense of community and responsibility — and it has failed to protect its own people. However, elected leadership is also a reflection of the people themselves. The cycle continues. Tyrants and bullies who use the language of victimhood are placated. At this point, perhaps all we can do is pray for this country’s future.
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