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The Express Tribune Editorial 4 April 2020



Daniel Pearl’s murder mystery persists — nearly two decades on. The main accused in the 2002 murder, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, has got his death sentence overturned by the Sindh High Court. Sheikh has only been found guilty of kidnapping the American journalist and sentenced to seven years in prison as hearing over his appeal against his murder conviction by an anti-terrorism court in July 2002 came to an end last Thursday, after 18 long years. The high court has also acquitted three other accused persons who were earlier sentenced to life in prison in the same case.
The abduction of Pearl, 38, from Karachi and his subsequent decapitation somewhere in Pakistan — captured on camera and released in the form of a video clip — led to massive international outrage at a time when Islamabad was — in the wake of 9/11 — under severe pressure from the US to eliminate terror networks operating on its soil. The names of high-profile figures like alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al Qaeda member Saif al-Adel also came up during the course of investigation.
That all four who remained under trial for years and years could not be sentenced over the gruesome murder shows that either the prosecution had lost interest in proving the long-running case or it was under some sort of pressure. And if the acquittal of the mentioned accused has really come on merit, it means that the years of investigation had been wasted on the wrong people while real culprits remained untroubled.
As British-born Sheikh has already spent 18 years in prison on death row, his seven-year sentence is supposed to be counted as time served. While Sheikh and the other three are set to walk free, the Sindh Home Department has detained all of them for three months, invoking the law related to the maintenance of public order. Also, the Sindh Prosecution Department has decided to move the Supreme Court seeking suspension of the SHC judgement. The search for the killer thus continues.


Kashmir domicile law


India’s new domicile law for occupied Kashmir has been met by a chorus of criticism from inside and outside the country. Under the new law, the Indian citizens, who have lived in the disputed regions that formed what India referred to as Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years, can officially make the region their domicile on government documents. A second condition applies to those who have lived in the territory for seven years and appeared in either class 10 or 12 examinations from a local school or college. Meanwhile, government officers and employees of government education institutes and government-owned companies are all eligible for the change if they have lived in the region for 10 years.
Kashmiris are accusing Modi of “demographic flooding” to change the face of the region, and they are correct. Modi doesn’t even need citizens to wilfully move there, given that his recent policies have killed the local economy. He can just turn thousands of government employees into Kashmiris overnight. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday strongly condemned the Narendra Modi government’s continued illegal efforts to alter the demography of the disputed territory. The Prime Minister has rightly called the new law a “violation of all international laws and treaties”. He also called out India’s passage of the law at a time when the country — and in fact the whole world — is under a curfew due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The Foreign Office had also noted that India’s has been trying to change the “demography and distinct identity” of Kashmir for a long time. Modi is clearly using the pandemic as cover to avoid protests at home and abroad against his Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva agenda. And even though the Foreign Office has called on the United Nations and the world to take notice and hold India “accountable for its persistent violations of international law”, it is unfortunately clear that with Covid-19 ravaging daily life in every major country, world leaders have bigger domestic issues on their plates. By the time they can turn their focus back on international matters, it will likely be too late for Kashmiris.


Job cuts


The internal and global situation in the wake of the raging coronavirus pandemic indicates difficult days ahead for Pakistanis. The Ministry of Planning has estimated that within the country 12.3 million to 18.5 million jobs might be lost and the economy could sustain Rs2 trillion to Rs2.5 trillion losses due to moderate to severe shocks from the virus outbreak. The grim forecast has come when the country seems to have crossed the limited level and is at the moderate phase in terms of curbs on movement. Add to this the global situation. So far the pandemic has claimed more than 51,000 lives worldwide and the number of confirmed cases has topped one million.
Now the worst-hit country is the US, the largest economy in the world. Italy, China, Spain and other European countries are among countries to take the biggest hit. These countries are Pakistan’s important trading partners, so losses in terms of exports too would be substantial. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis work in Gulf countries whose remittances are crucial to the functioning of the economy. Much of the region has been in lockdown for varying periods of time. The above figures are, however, tentative, as the full impact of the pandemic will only be felt when it ends. This is the future scenario in a country whose economy has already been in turbulent waters. All this points to a frightening scenario in the near future, especially in terms of unemployment.
The UN has predicted a 1% growth of the global economy, a sharp reversal from the pre-pandemic forecast of 2.5%. Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Egypt are likely to be badly affected as a result of the spread of coronavirus in the Gulf. As of now Gulf countries have 3,2,00 confirmed cases of Covid-19. The devastating effects of the pandemic should give humanity a jolt to mend its ways. Harmful habits precede natural calamities. Or is it going to be the same thing over and over again?
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