A DAY before the country observed Yaum-i-Istehsal to mark one year since the special status of India-held Kashmir was revoked by New Delhi, a new map of Pakistan was unveiled by the government which, the prime minister said, “supports our principled stance on Kashmir dispute”. There are various modifications in the new official map; for example the claim for Junagadh and Manavadar — now in India — has been highlighted, as has Pakistan’s position on Sir Creek. But perhaps the greatest change has been the inclusion of the entire Jammu and Kashmir region as part of Pakistan. This has expectedly raised India’s hackles, though the Foreign Office has shot down New Delhi’s remonstrations.
It appears that the cartographic changes are a psychological move designed to pay India back in the same coin. Last year, New Delhi had also released a political map which showed Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan as part of its territory. That questionable move was swiftly rejected by China and Nepal along with Pakistan, reflecting the serious border disputes India has with nearly all its neighbours. As for Pakistan’s new map, the prime minister termed it “the first step” towards resolution of the festering Kashmir imbroglio, while adding that the move was designed to reject India’s annexation of occupied Kashmir last year, and the bifurcation of the held region into union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
While it seems the changes on the map are designed to counter Indian propaganda, there are some questions the government should consider. Firstly, why was the map issued at this juncture? Secondly, how far will this move go in forwarding the Kashmir cause? Rhetoric apart, it needs to be examined what moves are being made on the ground to end India’s brutal siege of IHK, and resolve the Kashmir question as per the aspirations of the region’s people. Pakistan has always argued that only Kashmiris can decide their destiny, and no changes can be imposed on them. Therefore, while the new map may be designed to express solidarity with Kashmiris, it needs to be reiterated that a final solution to the dispute can only be achieved after Kashmiris express their will in a democratic manner. Perhaps a detailed debate in parliament can help answer some of these questions, and clarify the situation for Pakistanis, Kashmiris and the world. However, regardless of these changes, the situation in IHK remains grim, with Kashmiris putting up with a year-long lockdown. Yet despite India’s cruel tactics, the Kashmiris’ spirit remains unbroken. The Indian military machine can apply all the pressure it wants, but the fact is that the held region’s people have had enough of New Delhi’s colonial rule, and want freedom and dignity. After living in limbo for over seven decades, the time is ripe for a just, peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue as per the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
PFUJ at 70
THE Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this week, can look back on its history with both satisfaction and mortification. It has achieved a lot but has also lost much of its vigour due to factionalism within its ranks. The courageous decision to create an organisation dedicated to the ideals of a media free from bondage to the government — and Pakistan’s other powerful players — was itself an achievement. It was a difficult task because of Pakistan’s membership of Western military alliances; any mention of libertarian ideas was considered a communist plot. Yet the fact that the PFUJ not only survived but worked fearlessly under a unified, elected leadership is indeed a tribute to its founders’ vision and courage. Their aim was simple and non-controversial — to have a trade union dedicated to ensuring the implementation of Pakistani journalists’ professional rights and their economic well-being. One of its biggest achievements was getting an unwilling government to agree to the establishment of a body to categorise newspapers according to their financial strength and draw up pay scales for journalists. Set up in the early 1960s, the wage board has been giving its award every five years despite opposition from the owners’ lobby.
An event that is an intrinsic part of the PFUJ’s history was the countrywide strike in 1970, which was launched under the leadership of the late Minhaj Barna. While the strike was essentially for the grant of interim pay relief for all journalists, and was held after a ‘yes’ vote by PFUJ members, the general election due later that year cast its ominous shadow on the protest. Right-wing political parties portrayed it as a leftist plot and tried to sabotage the strike by instigating the newspaper industry’s non-journalist staff. One of the PFUJ’s controversial decisions in the aftermath of the strike was to form a vertical trade union — the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation — that included both journalists and non-journalists. This decision led to a gradual dilution of the PFUJ’s strength, with all bargaining power resting with APNEC. Now the PFUJ, for a variety of reasons, including personality-driven ambitions, stands divided in factions, several attempts at unity having failed. At a time when efforts are on to gag free expression, a united PFUJ is needed more than ever before. It is time common sense prevailed and all PFUJ factions realised it is only through journalists’ unity that press freedom can be collectively defended.
THE abolition of more than 71,000 federal jobs in BPS-1 to BPS-16 — or over 10pc of around 680,000 sanctioned posts — is a welcome step towards a leaner government. That the abolished posts had been vacant for at least one year means that most of these jobs were not needed at all and could have been created out of political considerations at the taxpayers’ expense. The decision is part of the institutional reforms aimed at restructuring the federal government and will help check the latter’s swelling pay and pension bill besides creating fiscal space for new recruitments to improve the quality and reach of essential public services including education and healthcare. The government has also begun evaluation of its employees in BPS-1 to BPS-19 to check poor performance — but here there are valid concerns of potential political manipulation on its part — besides reducing the number of federal departments, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, etc. On the face of it, the purpose is to make the government machinery responsive towards the needs of the citizens while controlling its running expenditure.
While the institutional reforms undertaken so far should be appreciated, these were the easier ones to execute. The harder ones are yet to be implemented. There are ample indications that the government is facing resistance to the ‘change’ it wants to bring in the quality of governance in many places from entrenched vested interests. For instance, the FBR hierarchy is reported to have already rejected its proposed reorganisation as suggested by the institutional reforms body. Similarly, political compulsions are stopping the government from abolishing ministries and functions that have already been devolved to the provinces in spite of the significant burden on its budget. It must, however, be pointed out that a leaner government doesn’t necessarily guarantee smarter governance as such. Reforms that aren’t accompanied by greater use of technology and improvements in processes crucial to transforming the way public services are provided are always less likely to deliver effective governance.