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DAWN Editorials 14 March 2020

Rain tragedy

FOR days now, heavy rainfall, snow and hail have thundered across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, leaving a wave of death and destruction in their path. Over the past week, a number of people, including several children, were killed in rain-related episodes, with roofs and houses caving in on them, while countless others were injured. At the time of writing this editorial, the death count stood over 30, which may rise as further rainfall is predicted. One family in Swat lost three children in a single day when the roof of their house collapsed on them. So far, a few of the worst-hit areas have included Abbottabad, Swabi, Mardan, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Orakzai and South Waziristan. In some parts, crops have been damaged too, hurting farmers and the local populations that are dependent on them. Meanwhile, landslides have caused delays and traffic challenges in Upper Dir. While one cannot control nature, we should be able to better prepare for all kinds of natural disasters. After all, this is not the first time rain has wreaked havoc in the province; in fact, it seems to have become an all too common occurrence. Last year’s monsoon rain too led to many deaths including of eight children who took refuge in a two-storey house when torrential rainfall disrupted a wedding in Orakzai. The house collapsed, killing 14 people. A few days later, four people were reported to have been ‘buried alive’ when landslides struck Kaghan Valley — horrific news by all accounts, forgotten all too quickly.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020 Instead of being proactive, we seem to leave all matters of life and death to fate — a belief that may offer comfort to some, but which also makes it easier for those in positions of power to evade responsibility. If the KP government is not equipped to handle such disasters, the federal government must step in and provide relief to the people of the region in these difficult times.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

New province plan

THE announcement of a government plan to create a new province in south Punjab has been overshadowed by widespread worries over the administration’s unclear strategy to tackle the coronavirus threat as the number of affected people continues to rise. The scheme, which was finalised at a meeting chaired by the prime minister on Wednesday, seeks to fulfil a key PTI election promise to voters from south Punjab where a new province is a popular demand. The scheme was devised after more than a year of discussions by a committee set up to advise the government on moving forward on the plan. But the blueprint remains sketchy at best. The details revealed so far show the government wants to begin by building a ‘separate’ administrative infrastructure for the proposed province by appointing an additional inspector general of police and an additional chief secretary in the first phase. These appointments are to be followed by changes in the Constitution to form a new administrative and legislative entity

This isn’t the first attempt at carving out a new province consisting of Punjab’s southern districts. The demand has existed in south Punjab — one of the country’s most impoverished and underdeveloped regions — for a long time. Both the PPP and PML-N tried in recent years to capitalise on the economic deprivation of this region, passing resolutions and bringing hurriedly drafted bills in parliament to showcase their commitment to the cause. But neither party ever organised an intra-party debate to thrash out the issue nor engaged other parties to build a broader political consensus and a workable legislative, administrative and financial framework for the proposed province.

The PTI is no better than its rivals; it has shied away from initiating a wider debate on the matter within the party and avoided reaching out to the opposition parties, particularly the PML-N that wants two new provinces in south Punjab: one comprising the areas under the erstwhile Bahawalpur state and the other consisting of D.G. Khan and Multan divisions. The entire south Punjab province scheme appears to be part of the political rhetoric of the ruling party which appears clueless on how to proceed, given that it doesn’t enjoy the required two-thirds majority in parliament to get the Constitution amended. The division of a province like Punjab into two or three units is not easy. It is not only about tackling the legislative, administrative and financial aspects of the exercise, it is also a hugely sensitive issue that may have serious implications for the structure of the federation and the future relationship of the federating units with one another and the centre. Thus, the move requires the PTI to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the opposition, organise a parliamentary debate on the issue and involve the real stakeholders, ie the people of the region, before implementing the scheme.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

Media mogul’s arrest

THE arrest of Jang Group owner Mir Shakilur Rehman by NAB has once again highlighted the anti-graft watchdog’s high-handedness and propensity to target critics.

In a move that bears all the telltale signs of a witch-hunt, the bureau called Mr Rahman to appear before it and then proceeded to arrest him for allegedly acquiring land through illegal means.

The probe relates to property of almost seven acres that Mr Rahman is said to have acquired 34 years ago during the tenure of the then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif.

According to NAB, since Mr Rahman could not satisfactorily answer its questions, an arrest warrant was served on him and he was detained in the bureau’s lockup.

That the bureau decided to investigate a three-decade old matter at this time would be baffling had its modus operandi not been clearly established.

Time and again, NAB has been accused of political victimisation and of pursuing cases against those critical of the incumbent government or the bureau.

It is no secret that NAB has targeted opposition politicians by initiating probes, arresting them and then holding them in custody for extended periods — remands which have often ended in bail when courts found no reasonable justification to support the prolonged detention of suspects.

The Jang Group’s revelation that NAB officials have threatened the closure of its channels and asked its journalists to ‘slow down’ or stop stories may offer some explanation as to why NAB felt compelled to suddenly take up this case which for all these years did not appear to be on the anti-graft body’s radar.

If there is to be an investigation, it must be conducted in a professional, equitable manner and on the basis of sound evidence.

The bureau has earned a reputation for arbitrarily arresting people and exerting pressure on them despite their cooperation with investigators.

In fact, it is this very notion of ‘arrest first, investigate later’ that the Islamabad High Court criticised when it chastised NAB in the cases of Ahsan Iqbal and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for failing to produce compelling reasons to arrest individuals.

In a separate case, the court remarked that NAB appeared to be more interested in arresting individuals than investigating them.

Mr Rahman’s arrest, as in so many other NAB cases, smacks of deliberate harassment.

This case comes across as a way of silencing a free media that is exercising its rise to criticise the flawed accountability exercise.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

March 14, 2020
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