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Dawn Editorial 6 September 2020

A common agenda?

WILL they or won’t they meet on Sept 20 in Islamabad? Even the staunchest supporters of an anti-government movement at this point would be reluctant to bet on the smooth holding of the multiparty conference that is scheduled to be hosted by the PPP leadership. The predictions regarding the outcome of the meeting will have to wait for a more confidence-inspiring moment. The holding of the event itself has turned into a challenge and it is not clear whether the invitees have got the host of their choice. Reports say that some smaller aspiring partners in this ‘developing’ opposition alliance had wished to partake of Shahbaz Sharif’s hospitality as he is the opposition leader in parliament. However, Mr Sharif, as everyone knows by now, has been acting like a reluctant groom who repeatedly shies away from most rituals that are integral to marriages of convenience in the country.
Mr Sharif himself would have perhaps preferred a meaningful opposition inside the National Assembly — and the new parliamentary session might provide him an opportunity to ensure one. In fact, it is what most Pakistanis wary of street agitation would be hoping for, and it is indeed the path to a robust democracy. The long attritional test that the PTI put the country to during its dharna days before the elections came at a cost. The memory of that time has acted as a deterrent against a similar adventure, even against the ruling PTI itself. But it’s also true that if the political parties want to take the fight outside parliament, they would be within their democratic right to do so. The PTI must shoulder the blame for such aspirations, given that it has hardly ever indicated that it wanted parliament to function as a legislative assembly should. Right from the beginning, the ruling party has had no respect for the opposition.
But while the government has given the opposition a reason to unify by branding both the PPP and PML-N as corrupt, the two main parties are often blamed by smaller groups for not playing ball, and for betraying the larger cause — as we saw in the passage of the FATF-related bill. The rift over the FATF law reflects the larger divide in national politics. It shows that the PPP and PML-N are both willing to do what it takes to be accepted as bona fide contenders for the throne. There is also the question of how the smaller potential allies would be ‘rewarded’ in the current circumstances should the opposition succeed in dislodging the government. Many of these allies are radicalised and openly shunned by the establishment after enjoying decades of patronage. This then is the strange opposition mix against the PTI. It is no surprise that fixing a common agenda for this multiparty crowd is proving to be quite an uphill task.



Serious allegations

IT is the kind of explosive story that media outlets in Pakistan’s increasingly restrictive journalism landscape prefer to not touch, or at most, handle as gingerly as they would unexploded ordnance. A simultaneous tactic is to shoot the messenger. The sensational report published on Aug 27 on the Fact Focus website about the business empire that the family of retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, in sync with his rise in the military, had allegedly amassed in the US is an apt example.
Following a deafening silence on the claims made in the story, a vicious campaign was launched on one private TV channel and a couple of right-wing newspapers to discredit and malign the writer, Ahmed Noorani, as ‘anti-state’ and an ‘enemy agent’. Predictably, that snowballed into death threats being hurled at him on social media. Incidentally, in 2017, Mr Noorani was waylaid and beaten in a near-fatal attack in Islamabad; no one was even arrested for the crime.
Mr Bajwa, who is also chairman CPEC Authority, has described the report as “malicious propaganda” and issued a four-page detailed rebuttal challenging each claim made in the story. Moreover, he tendered his resignation from his post as special adviser to the prime minister — a resignation that Imran Khan did not accept. The PTI’s official Twitter account said Mr Khan was satisfied with the evidence provided by Mr Bajwa about his family’s assets.
However, the controversy cannot be wished away so easily; indeed it has been fanned further by Mr Khan’s response. Having beaten the drums of accountability so loudly where the political opposition is concerned, the government has opened itself up to unseemly mutterings about ‘selective NROs’.
Mr Bajwa took the right decision by attempting to resign as SAPM, even though he did not choose to relinquish his charge as chairman CPEC Authority. Nevertheless, the gravity of the allegations against him is such that notwithstanding the prime minister’s vote of confidence, the retired general needs to be more forthcoming in terms of documentation, particularly as he claims he can present the complete money trail.
A perception that he is shying away from accountability, like some politicians, would reflect negatively on him. Even if his assertion is correct that no wrongdoing is involved, he must for the sake of transparency, and to clear his name and that of his family, demonstrate willingness to cooperate with an FBR or NAB investigation.



Another abduction

IN a disturbing development, it has been reported that an SECP official has been abducted from the capital. The family of Sajid Gondal, a joint director at the SECP, and also a former journalist, said he has been missing since Thursday night. His relatives have lodged a complaint with the police and also approached the Islamabad High Court with a plea for his recovery. At the hearing of the petition, Justice Athar Minallah noted that the abduction of a citizen from the capital in this manner was “extremely alarming” and directed authorities to trace Mr Gondal by Monday.
The disappearance of Mr Gondal comes little more than a month after the brief abduction of journalist Matiullah Jan, who was forcefully taken in broad daylight by unidentified men as he waited outside a school in Islamabad. Despite the fact that Mr Jan’s abduction was captured by a CCTV camera and elicited a deafening public outcry, the probe into who is behind the episode remains incomplete. The tragedy of our times is that these abductions are not uncommon. Rights activist Idrees Khattak, who was abducted last year in November, remains missing. More recently, activist Sarang Joyo, went missing and was later released by ‘unknown persons’ late at night. The pattern is eerily similar: citizens are picked up, their families run from pillar to post to seek help, yet there is no justice. Loved ones can at best hope that the ‘missing person’ will return, even if an explanation remains elusive. These events and the secrecy which shrouds them are an indictment of the law. While the Constitution says that no one is above the law, it appears that some authorities are answerable to no one. It is not enough that Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has condemned Mr Gondal’s kidnapping. The prime minister in a recent interview was callously dismissive when he referred to Mr Jan’s abduction. The government must fulfil its responsibility to protect citizens and provide an explanation for these disturbing episodes. Condemnations are not enough.


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