`You`re a disgrace, PTA` – 12 Feb 2023

THERE`s a certain amount of heartache that`s intrinsic to living in a place like Pakistan. If you`re paying any attention, you`ll see decisions so self-defeating as to be psychotic. You`ll see poor economic performance peel back the bare necessities people need to survive. You`ll see the state spend billions on plots and protocols for its richest citizens anyway. You`ll see powerful people murder weak ones. You`ll see the legal system let them get away with it.

And once all that is done, and every misery imaginable has been inflicted en masse, you`ll see those in power look at whatever tiny joys regular people are left with in their lives, and manically, sadistically, you`ll see them try and snatch those away too.

Last week, a country of 220 million lost access to the largest free repository of knowledge on the planet. Suddenly, the first result to almost everything on Google led to a black screen. Millions of kids doing homework and class projects across the country were left without answers. A window to the outside world closed shut, an immeasurable amount of curiosity left unsatiated. Anywhere else in the world, you`d think this was an elaborate cyberattack aimed at crippling a generation, ensuring they can never compete on the global stage. But really, no amount of foreign conspiracies can come close to the damage dealt by our own limitless stupidity.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned Wikipedia on Saturday last week. By Monday, and only after the prime minister`s intervention, the ban was lifted. No specific reasoning was offered for the decision. No apology after its reversal. Enough laws were broken, and constitutional rights violated, that Pd need a whole other column just to list them out.

How then, did this regulator get away with a stupidly illegal move, only to pretend it never happened? Well, it`s got experience. PTA`s greatest hits include blocl(ing Facebook in 2010, YouTube in 2012, the video game PUBG in 2020, and social media app TikTok that same year. All these bans were reversed.

But every time, the damage was done.

Consider YouTube, which stayed banned in Pakistan for four years. Since then, it`s grown to contribute over a billion dollars and 750,000 jobs to the Indian economy. Regular people found a following, monetised their creativity, and turned into stars overnight. Google set up domestic offices. Lives changed. And because countries like India and Bangladesh had not convinced the world that their technological decisions were made by a cabal of suicidal chimpanzees, foreign investment grew exponentially.How many success stories did we undo with that single ban? How many people are there in poverty today who would have been lifted out of it by investments that would have flowed in if not for PTA`s incompetence? Consider PUBG. I`ve never played the game myself. But basic empathy means recognising that something could mean nothing to me and the world to someone else. In the most remote, rural parts of Pakistan, TikTok has become a source of happiness and entertainment for people with very little of it to go around. So, if something brings people joy, harms no one, and breaks no laws, who am I to take it away? How could I be so arrogant as to assume I know what`s better for them? The fact that a regulator routinely exercises this arrogance, has it blow up in its face every time, and does not respect its people enough to apologise for each fresh display of incompetence, is an insult to all of us.

While writing this, I spoke to PTA insiders on the condition of anonymity.

Responses were similar: it`s not really their fault, it`s the `pressure from the maulvis`.

But I`m sorry to breal( it to you; Pakistanitaxpayers don`t pay you to sacrifice their freedoms at the altar of your cowardice. If you don`t have the guts to do your job with integrity, and in the interest of the people you serve, resign.In the meantime, deci‡ions that impact every Pakistani must be debated by elected representatives parliament.

PTA operates under the federal government, which holds the power to cut it down to size and prevent further self-sabotage.

If the folks at PTA (many of whom may indeed be well-intentioned cogs in an undeniably destructive machine) see this column for what it is (a sincere appeal to stop hurting our country), I hope they`ll engage with it. Write a response. Justif y their decisions. And if they can`t do that, I`m sure they can take responsibility for their mistakes; pledge to do better in the future.

But judging by their history, they won`t do that either. Judging by PTA`s history, dear reader, once this column inevitably lands on his desk, a powerful man in Islamabad will put down his paper, take a sip of his tea, and turn to address his subordinates. `Is there any way we can ban this guy too?`• The writer is a lawyer and columnist from Okara, based in Islamabad.

Twitter: @hkwattoo1

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Counterterrorism effort – 12 Feb 2023

FOLLOWING the withdrawal of US and Nato troops from Afghanistan, strategists in Washington felt they were being `betrayed` by Pakistan.

Apart from some old `grievances` against Pakistan, the US was perturbed by the way in which the Taliban takeover of Kabul was celebrated as a `victory` in Pakistan. Even Pakistan`s prime minister at the time, Imran Khan, could not curb his enthusiasm over the Taliban takeover, saying they had `broken the shacl les of slavery`.

And now, less than two years after the Taliban took power, frustration in Pakistan has reached a level where the country is already reviewing and reinforcing its internal security policies, besides trying to repair its relationship with Washington.

It is not yet certain whether or not Pakistan`s romance with the Taliban is over. However, it is clear that Pakistan is trying to revive its counterterrorism cooperation with the US. Apparently, the focus of CT cooperation will be the terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan, including Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari indicated in his last visit to Washington, D.C. that Pakistan and the US will hold talks next month to explore the possibilities of coordinating efforts to combat terrorism. Islamabad perceives that CT cooperation can broaden economic and strategic cooperation prospects. So far, the US has been cautious: it has neither shown much enthusiasm nor dismissed cooperation with Pakistan. The US has facilitated the revival of the IMF programme for Pakistan. It also pledged support for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-af fected areas in Geneva last month, which helped Pakistan raise about $9 billion at the conference.

Though formal defence and diplomatic channels are functional between the two nations, the US has verbally assured its support to Pakistan for its efforts in countering terrorism. However, the prospect of broader cooperation depends on the geopolitical regional theatre and the intensity of the terrorism threat. The US will also be largely concerned about the response of the Pakistani establishment (with which it would cooperate incountering terrorism) and its relationship with the Taliban. And most importantly, Pakistan`s approach on maintaining a balance in its relationship with China and the US will also significantly figure in Washington`s possible cooperation.

As far as the scope of CT cooperation is concerned, the prime objective of the US would be to eliminate the already weakened Al Qaeda from the region and keep a check on the militant Islamic State-Khorasan group. The TTP is not a significant threat on the US radar as it is focusing on Pakistan only. Pakistan will have to convince the US that the TTP is as potent a threat as Al Qaeda as it still has global linkages or ambitions. Interestingly, a view also exists in Pakistan and the wider region that the TTP can pose a similar threat to the Taliban regime as Al Qaeda did in the 1990s to the first Taliban regime. The latter paid the price for non-cooperation against Al Qaeda, and this time the TTP is testing the Taliban`s nerves. Evidently, there is no sign that the Taliban will completely disconnect with the TTP, which will cause anger to furtherescalateinPakistan.

If both sides agree on some CT cooperation, the real challenge would be to chalk out a strategy to implement that cooperation. If the cooperation is to be confined to information sharing, then that has already been happening at certain levels. Will the US help in hitting the TTP leadership through drones as it did previously? There are avenues for enhancing technical and logistical support with the US. But the real question is how Pakistan will deal with the Taliban regime, which is already suspicious about Pakistan`s support in the killing of Al Qaeda head Ayman alZawahiri in Kabul.

Any operational cooperation between the two nations could also complicate Pakistan`s internal security challenge and politics. Extensive CT cooperation with the US would be like walking a tightrope for Pakistan.

Usually, it is believed in many influential circles in Washington and Islamabad that the US and the world at large would not allow a state witha nuclear arsenal to suffer an economic crisis for too long, especially when the state is trying to normalise its relations with the US.

These experts often suggest thatPakistanEts well into the US multi-alignment framework.

They argue that Pakistan has a long history of bilateral ties with the US, which the latter can use with confidence while managing its chessboard in South and Central Asia. However, such optimism has not helped improve Pakistan`s image in America`s security assessments, especially when it comes to China. The last annual report of the US defence department ranked Pakistan as China`s only all-weather strategic partner, which China can consider a location for a military logistics facility.

In the regional strategic scenario, the PakistanChina strategic cooperation is compulsive, and their cooperation will only increase. However, maintaining a balance would become more challenging for Pakistan as US-China tensions will grow, and a stage may come where Pakistan will not have the option to stay neutral. However, it can facilitate informal channels between the two global powers if tensions reach a level where formal diplomatic channels give no reason to hope.

To gain such diplomatic strength, Pakistan needs economic recovery, which is only possible with the help of the US, China, and other friendly countries in the Gulf. CT cooperation has a dif ferent value than it had over the last decade. Pakistan must find a new key to make itself relevant in the regional political landscape. So far, it is known what the key would look like, but economic recovery and political stability can provide a conducive environment for rethinking processes.

China is more concerned about the state of terrorism in Pakistan, as it is a major threat to its CPEC-related investment. Beijing is also willing to extend its support to counter threats, which Pakistan would have to deal with with or without the help of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. • The writer is a security analyst.

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Brutal torture of two women `by rivals in land dispute` in Umerkot village – 12 Feb 2023

UMERKOT: Two of the eight suspects nominated in an FIR pertaining to the brutal torture of two women were arrested by the Dhoronaro police on Saturday.

A video that went viral on the social media showed the eight suspects subjecting the two women, Najma Nohari, wife of Ibrahim Nohad, and Latifa Nohad, wife of Mumtaz Nohad, to severe beating and the women crying foul. It showed that the suspects dragged the screaming victims into the nearby jungle area by pulling them from hair before beating them up until the victims fainted.

Area residents said that the victims` families had a dispute over a piece of land in Khunhar village near Dhoronaro with those of the suspects. Both sides belonged to the Nohari community. They confirmed that the incident of torture took place on Friday (Feb 10).

As soon as the video went viral on the social media, adviser to the chief minister on human rights Surrender Valasai and Education Minister Syed Sardar Shah took notice of the incident and ordered arrest of the culprits.

Accordingly, an FIR against the eight men was registered at the Dhoronaro police station and two of the suspects, Sobdar Nohari and Khamiso Nohri, were arrested.

The Umerkot SSP ordered an inquiry into the whole episode after which DSP Iqbal Mangrio along with a police team proceeded to the village to make arrests.

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Woman held for killing domestic help remanded in police custody – 12 Feb 2023

KARACHI: A judicial magistrate on Saturday remanded in police custody a woman arrested for her alleged involvement in the death of her 11-year-old domestic help and wounding his brothers.

Police claimed to have arrested Shirin Asad and booked her for allegedly killing teenager Rafique and causing injuries to his three elder brothers, who worked at her house in Gulshan-i-lqbal, on Feb 8.

On Saturday, the investigating officer produced the suspect before the judicial magistrate (East) to seek her physical remand in police custody for interrogation and investigation.

The IO submitted that according to the complainant, Maqbool Manthar Ali, the suspect used to beat her sons. He further submitted that she allegedly used to burn the victim with heated tongs and had pulled his nails with pliers.

He added that the suspect had also wounded the older boy, Mitha Khan. He pleaded for a 14-day remand in police custody for questioning and collecting evidence to complete the investigation and other legal formalities.

However, the magistrate remanded the suspect in police custody for five days, directing the IO to produce her on the next date along with an investigation report.

A case was registered under Sections 302 (premeditated murder), 324 (attempted murder), 334 (punishing for destroying limbs), and 337-A (i) (punishment for causing injuries) of the Pakistan Penal Code read with Sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018 at the Gulshan-i-lqbal police station on the complaint of the victim`s father.

According to the FIR, the complainant`s three sons had been working at the woman`s house for the past many years.

It added that they were being paid Rs15,000 a month, which was being transferred to the complainant in district Tharparkar.

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