Forest fires – 19 May 2022

THOUGH spot and forest fires have become a perennial phenomenon especially in peak summer, the recent blazes which include some due to alleged acts of arson are symptomatic of the devil-may-care attitude of officials and the public towards protecting nature. Fires were seen on Sunday and Monday in the Saidpur and Chinari areas of the Margalla Hills; large fires were also reported over the weekend from forests in Kahuta, Kallar Syedan and Kotli Sattian areas. News of the Margalla forest fires broke a couple of days ago when they were featured in two TikTok videos on social media. Most striking was the nonchalance of the Islamabad officials who remained oblivious to the blaze in the capital`s own backyard although it originated in KP until they came in for harsh criticism on social media. Earlier this month, a similar fire had erupted on one of the picturesque Murree hills; evidently spreading over several acres, it could be seen from miles away.

That the authorities were caught woefully ill-prepared and mostly relied on the local communities` conventional ways of beating the fire out, is cause for immense alarm. The country is gripped by a severe heatwave, and the fires one of which reportedly blazed for days could have easily spread out of control and caused damage to life and property, besides posing a serious environmental hazard.

Moreover, the authorities` claims that fires are mostly caused by mischief-makers, tourists, or the timber mafia (to hide evidence of their activities), is a flimsy excuse for their inaction. Given this, the announcement by Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman that fire vigilance in the affected areas would be beefed up is a longawaited step in the right direction. While the arsonists must of course be punished, such vandalism can be easily prevented by a permanent fire vigilance force, even a small one, with requisite professional training. Nature reserves should be protected at all costs if we are to have a fighting chance of surviving the impact of climate change.

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Judicial chemo – 19 May 2022

`The court must care to speak and act in ways that allow people to accept its decision on the terms the court claimsfor them, as grounded truly in principle, not as compromises with social and political pressures having, as such, no bearing on the principled choices that the court is obliged to make.`Justice O`Connor AFTER weeks of deliberation, the Supreme Court announced its verdict in the presidential reference concerning the interpretation of Article 63A of the Constitution.

Terming defections `a cancer afflicting the body politic`, the court with a majority of three against two held that a parliamentarian`s vote inconsistent with his parliamentary party with respect to an election to the office of a prime minister or chief minister, a vote of no-confidence, and a finance bill ought to be disregarded. Should the verdict be hailed for performing judicial chemotherapy of the body politic or should the same be critiqued for diluting the separation of powers and for its overreach, however well-intentioned the endeavour may be? Express command of the Constitution: Article 63A triggers a detailed procedure in the event that a parliamentarian departs from the position espoused by his parliamentary party. The party head, af ter providing a parliamentarian with an opportunity to show cause for his defection, may issue a declaration of defection and may transmit the same to the presiding officer of their House. The presiding officer subsequently transits such declaration to the chief election commissioner who lays the same before the Election Commission for the latter to decide the same within 30 days.

The spirit of the article was to curb the menace of horse trading and obviate the possibility of political parties being artificially amputated by extraneous actors.

Resultantly, the article struck a balance between the right of individual legislators and democratic stability by allowing the former to depart from their party position.

Such legislators, however, defected at the peril of being de-seated and facing their voters so as to allow the electorate to express its support for the act of defection or condemn the same. Nonetheless, in holding that the votes of such legislators may not be counted, the verdict renders Article 63A entirely redundant, thus, substituting the express command of the Constitution with the moral values of the members of the bench.

The power of dissent: Critical for democracy to deepen, for local grievances to be allayed, and for grassroots leaders to emerge is the need to have political parties with open channels of communication that foster dissent. Precluding members from expressing dissenting views not only erodes the fun-damental rights of such members but also arrests the evolution of political parties into robust instruments of democracy and paves the way for party heads to treat political parties as personal fiefdoms, thus, accelerating our descent into fascism. Recent events have highlighted the perils concomitant with vesting the office of a party head with such unbridled powers and besmirching those who question his policies as morally compromised. Keeping the channels of dissent open allows political parties to deliberate over critical choices, sift through morally and politically questionable choices, foster greater transparency, and increase political participation.

Judicial overreach: The principle of separation of powers constitutes the cornerstone of our constitutional dispensation. The principle presumes that the chosen representatives of the people, given their proximity to the electorate, are best suited to represent the nation`s aspirations. Judges with security of tenure and sequestered from the public, on the other hand, are entrusted to inter-pret and apply the law impartially and without prejudice to the sentiments that such interpretation may engender. Nonetheless, in holding that it was `high time that such a law is placed on the statute book` and observing that such a lawis not a `mere slap on the wrist`, the court appears to have arrogated to itself the role of parliament, thus challenging the latter`s monopoly over representing the body politic`s aspirations.

As courts give short shrift to the express command of the Constitution in an attempt to search for the nebulous `spirit of the Constitution`, questions emerge as to whether the Constitution is what it says it is or if it is what the court feels it says. Can the `spirit of the Constitution` prevail over its express command? Can the court curb a menace, however abhorrent, when parliament has conspicuously refused to do the same? More importantly, can the court perform chemotherapy to treat what it terms a `cancer afflicting the body politic` even where the tools for such procedure vest with parliament? As we search for answers to these questions, let us remember that `libertyñndsno refugein thejurisprudence of doubt.`• The writer is a lawyer.

Twitter: @MoizBaig26

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When the lakes burst – 19 May 2022

Since the early twentieth century, glaciers are on the retreat. Like the poles the Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalaya (HKH) region of Pakistan is also facing the effects of climate change in the form of rapid melting of glacial ice mass, creation of new lakes and expansion of the existing ones which eventually result in glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) hazard downstream.

Recently, the Shisper glacier burst in Hunza valley which resulted in a flood and caused the Hussainabad bridge to collapse. GLOF often has catastrophic effects downstream but luckily there were no casualties this time.

Although exact knowledge about the glaciers and their behaviour is a must for disaster risk management and early warning, in the HKH region data collection is not easy and is hampered by highly inaccessible terrain and harsh climatic conditions.

As the glaciers retreat, glacial lakes start to form and rapidly fill up behind natural moraine or ice dams at the bottom or on top of these glaciers. As a result of climate change, glacial retreat is observed in most regions of the Hindukush Himalaya, which has given rise to the formation of numerous new glacial lakes.

According to Pak Met Department data, there are a total of 3,044 glacial lakes in the HKH region of Pakistan that cover a surface area of about 134.8 km2. The four basins of the Karakoram Range – Gilgit, Hunza, Shigar and Shyok – contribute about 41 per cent to the total lake numbers and lakes area. Out of 3,044 glacial lakes, 36 are classified as potentially dangerous glacial lakes in ten sub-basins of the Upper Indus Basin.

GLOFs are caused by the sudden bursting of the glacial lakes that are either ice-dammed or moraine-dammed which results in a catastrophic release of water. This is considered the most dangerous glacier-related hazard in terms of direct damage potential. The debris and rocks carried by the flood can devastate anything that comes in their flow path. It can destroy infrastructure and blast riverbanks and dams.

It is highly recommended that the identified dangerous glacial lakes especially those near the headwaters and settlements must be monitored regularly using high quality remote sensing data combined with the field investigations. It is a must to install GLOF early warning systems all along the downstream.

Altogether, the Gilgit Basin possesses higher lake area than the Indus Basin indicating presence of large size lakes in the former basin. The largest lake of the Gilgit Basin has an area of about 2.71 km.

The local communities which have been experiencing flood hazards are now more vulnerable because of an increase in the frequency of these hazards due to global climate change in the recent decades. Already a series of GLOF events has occurred in recent years that has resulted in heavy damage to property and infrastructure besides loss of valuable lives in the HKH region of Pakistan.

The northern glaciated region has a population of about 0.5 million which is mainly concentrated in the main towns/villages in the valleys. Some of the villages are located in remote areas close to the snow and glacial cover that face the direct consequences of glacial hazards like outburst floods or surging.

There is an immediate need to raise public awareness of risks, strengthen communities’ preparedness and resilience and develop capacity building plans for planners and local communities of remote mountain villages to cope with high risk of GLOF hazards in this region.

Large flooding events can even impact communities of villages lying at far distances along the downstream areas. In most of the cases, village people living close or in the flow path of glaciers are under great mental stress because of the shadowing disasters and risks. Due to poor livelihood conditions, lack of resources and proper management within the system the local communities have to face problems in taking effective response measures for risk reduction or mitigation.

Their agriculture and forest land irrigated through glacier melt is at risk. Main roads, highways and bridges that connect different towns and villages in the region are in danger. These have already been destroyed several times due to GLOF and landslide events in the past.

The most critical lakes in the region include in Hunza, Gil-gl 621 lying over Sandhi and other villages in Yasin valley and Gil_gl 222 which can create frequent floods triggered by heavy rains affecting the downstream areas of Gakuch. Similarly, a hanging lake Gil_gl 595 in upper reaches of Dahimal can create outburst flood hazard in case of any extreme rainfall/surging of its source glacier of hanging nature. The end-moraine dammed lakes Shyk_gl 265, Shyk_gl 262 in Shyok basins are found highly susceptible. Ast_gl 160 in Astore basin and Ind_gl 148 in Indus sub-basin can create flood disastrous conditions for downstream communities in case of rapid melting of their source glaciers.

The blocked lake Hunz_gl 13 created by massive land sliding event at Attabad village in Hunza is highly susceptible of outburst flooding in case of any extensive breaching of the material under high pressure of upstream inflows. The supraglacial lakes Hunz_gl 14 over Ghulkin glacier in Hunza and Gil_gl 656 over Hinarchi glacier in Gilgit can also cause heavy damage.

It is highly recommended that the NDMA and the Ministry of Climate Change work together to reduce the risk of flood for the communities living in the wake of glacial floods. There is a need for early warning mechanisms including messaging service on mobile phones, alerts and alarms set in the identified areas, well established temporary shelters for communities and livestock to relocate in case of flooding and ample resources for food and fresh water in stock.

It is not possible to prevent flooding from the bursting of a glacier; the only thing to be done is mitigation and saving the lives of people and livestock from damage caused by the flood. The time to act is now.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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Covid-19 mortality – 19 May 2022

It has dominated news cycles, debates and policies since 2020, but COVID-19 continues to exercise the interest of number crunchers and talliers. While the ghoulish daily press announcements about infections and deaths across many a country have diminished and, in some cases, disappeared altogether, publications abound about how many were taken in the pandemic. The World Health Organization, ever that herald of dark news, has offered a revised assessment across of the SARS-CoV-2 death toll associated either directly or indirectly with the pandemic. Between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, the global health body suggests that the mortality figure is closer to 14.9 million, with a range of 13.3 million to 16.6 million.

The number considers excess mortality, the figure reached after accounting for the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred, and the number expected in the absence of the pandemic. It also accounts for deaths occasioned directly by COVID-19, or indirectly (for instance, the pandemic’s disruption of society and health systems). The impact, as expected, has been disproportionate in terms of which countries have suffered more. Of the excess deaths, 68 per cent were concentrated in 10 countries – Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. Middle-income countries accounted for 81 per cent of excess deaths; high-income countries, for 15 per cent, and low-income countries, 4 per cent.

The United States, if only for being ascendant in terms of power, wealth, and incompetence in dealing with the virus, finds itself in the undistinguished position of having lost a million people. “Today,” remarked President Joe Biden, “we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, one million Covid deaths, one million empty chairs around the family dinner table, each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic.” Chief Medical Adviser to the President, Anthony Fauci, rued the fact that “at least a quarter of those deaths, namely about 250,000” might have been saved by vaccinations. He also warned about the ugly prospect of a resurgence in numbers, and not bringing “down our guard”.

In light of such figures, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterates the line he and his colleagues have done so for months. Pandemics demand more “resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems”. His organisation “was committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.” Much of this will be wishful thinking. Figures, certainly when they concern matters of mortality, can become the subject of bitter dispute. Covid-19 has proved no exception.

Excerpted: ‘Morbid Matters: Estimating COVID-19 Mortality’. Courtesy:

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Political planet – 18 May 2022

IN 2019, the journal Science Advances published a study about the state of the world`s glaciers. This study found that glaciers in the Himalayan mountain range were melting much faster than they did at the end of the last century. Current losses at Siachen and other glaciers reveal that they have been losing a vertical foot and a half of ice since 2000 a statistic that warns of a future of droughts as those in South Asia confront a dwindling supply of water from the main waterways.

Melting glaciers and rising seas, everyone now knows (or should know), are propelling us towards an environmental catastrophe which in turn produces human catastrophe.

The current heatwave gripping South Asia is one iteration of environmental cataclysm. For days, Jacobabad in Sindh has remained among the hottest places on earth. Scores have died in the subcontinent because of the ravages of heat exhaustion and dehydration. These are the casualties of climate change killed for no other reason than the fact that humans harboured misconceptions about the warming planet or did not pay any heed when just such a scenario was predicted.

For as long as they have existed on Earth, humans have been consuming the planet`s resources and, in the last many decades, spewing too much carbon dioxide into the planet`s atmosphere. Even now, growing e conomies like India and China are uninterested in committing to reducing carbon emissions for fear that it will stall the growth of their economies.

At the same time, it is just this phenomenon of environmental degradation that is exposing how earlier ways of understanding the nation state as the primary political unit are failing. The Treaty of Westphalia signed in 1648 gave birth to the nation state as the primary political unit in the world. The `kingdoms` and `empires` gave way to countries organised around borders. Living inside them or even travelling through them required documents, a very novel concept. Travellers of yore like Ibn-iBattuta never had to worry about passports and visas as all travellers must now. But at the time of the treaty, these were new ideas, including the fact that governance by the people would replace thesystem of monarchies held together for hundreds of years. It is very likely that just as we cannot envision a world without the nation state, so too did our ancestors laugh at the idea that there would be countries that were not ruled by kings and their courts.

New systems emerge when the old ones will not do or because their deficiencies make them redundant. In our present situation, the fact that climate catastrophe does not accord with national borders is proving to be a problem. When farmers in Indian Punjab burn straw stubble on their fields, the smog settles on Lahore and produces days of air quality so low that even seeing a few feet ahead is very difficult. Nor is it the smog alone, as many expertshave pointed out. Pakistan`s status as the lower riparian vis-à-vis India creates a security issue as well, serving as the sword of Damocles suspended over our collective heads. If the last few weeks have revealed the hell that climate change can be, imagine it multiplied several times over as rivers dry up permanently and drought becomes a regularity.

The nation state model is also failing because its dated mechanics are unable to handle climate change in any kind of fair or equitable way. Take for instance, the fact that Pakistan emits lower amounts of carbon dioxide than most countries. Be that as it may, no concessions are ever made so that Pakistan is provided more resources to confront the climate challenges that it has only a small hand in producing.

It follows then that one of the most significant challenges of our time does not align well with the nation state model. The progress on studying icehave pointed out. Pakistan`s status as the lower riparian vis-à-vis India creates a security issue as well, serving as the sword of Damocles suspended over our collective heads. If the last few weeks have revealed the hell that climate change can be, imagine it multiplied several times over as rivers dry up permanently and drought becomes a regularity.

The nation state model is also failing because its dated mechanics are unable to handle climate change in any kind of fair or equitable way. Take for instance, the fact that Pakistan emits lower amounts of carbon dioxide than most countries. Be that as it may, no concessions are ever made so that Pakistan is provided more resources to confront the climate challenges that it has only a small hand in producing.

It follows then that one of the most significant challenges of our time does not align well with the nation state model. The progress on studying icecores from melting glaciers means that humans can now look at their planetary history going back thousands of years. The emergence and popularisation of earth sciences such as geology and geophysics and others means that a large amount of data has been converted into numbers which can be put into predictive statistical models and reveal the future. Humans could hardly predict the weather when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed; they can now predict weather and climate-related catastrophe with great accuracy. It is just this sort of technology that has allowed humans to truly understand the depth of the climate catastrophe that the planet faces.

Even while wars such as the one in Ukraine seem to underscore the importance of the nation state, and the building of fortress-like border walls suggests as literal a meaning of the nation state as could be, it may well be the last gasp of the nation state. Environmentalists are pointing to the planet becoming a political unit such that its boundaries and general welfare become the basis for global cooperation. In simple terms, the assessment of time on the scale of millennia made possible by scientific advances and supercomputers highlights the need for new political units that focus on the interconnectedness ofeveryone and everything on the planet. The Covid-19 pandemic is arguably also the product of rising temperatures. It has underscored that countries have yet to come up with a collective response.

The move from nation state to planetary cooperation is inevitable. The long view of our planet, attested to from the ice cores of glaciers has revealed what the earth was long before even humans. The planet is getting hotter, habitats are being lost and environmental catastrophe is being courted and flirted with at every opportunity. The nation state model of political organisation has not produced the means of reining in the biggest threat faced by our planet. It may be time to consider a new one. • The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy rafia.zakaria@gmailcom

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Peace through trade – 18 May 2022

LAST week, a routine matter made headlines. The government approved appointments of trade ministers in several Pakistani embassies, including our high commission in New Delhi. Suddenly, several circles started speculating that Pakistan was about to open trade with India. Sensing the uproar, the government clarified that there was no change in Islamabad`s policy on trade with India.

The incident raised a broader question on how Pakistan should pursue geo-economics if it chooses not to trade with its neighbours.

Geo-economics essentially means leveraging geography to enhance the socioeconomic well-being of the people. For Pakistan, geo-economics calls for enhancing trade with its four neighbours Afghanistan, China, India and Iran.

Trade relations are a formidable peace constituency. The most instructive is the example of the European Union. Other regions, like those constituting Asean, have also discovered the huge benefits of regional trade for their people. South Asia, however, remains the least integrated region of the world. No doubt, much of the blame can be apportioned to India, which has not encouraged regional integration, allowed conflicts to fester, and kept Saarc marginalised.

Yet, at the end of the day, it is the South Asian countries that suffer more from intraregional conflict than India does. One major reason is that India, because of its economic size and military muscle, has become relevant for the US`s Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China. The US tilt towards India has emboldened the Indian leadership to pursue aggressive Hindutvadriven policies, destabilising the region and even the Indian polity, compromising the promise of regional trade.

So, what should Pakistan do under the circumstances? Should trade with neighbours be hostage to disputes or differences? Or should we begin to view trade relations with our neighbours through the prism of geoeconomics and socioeconomic well-being of the people of Pakistan? Our trade with Afghanistan had expanded to over $3 billion, but has shrunk since then despite the heavy dependence of Afghanistan on trade with and through Pakistan. With Iran, US sanctions have kept us away from substantial bilateral trade. we did not avail the innovative solutions that were available, such as border markets. The result is that the bordering regions of Pakistan continue to receive smuggled goods from Iran with no net gain for Pakistan`s exchequer.

With China, bilateral trade did receive a boost after the Free Trade Agreement of 2006, but the balance of trade is largely in China`s favour. With India, during the peaceprocess (2004-8), bilateral trade had jumped to over $3.6bn. But since August 2019, all trade ties remain suspended.

Likewise, transit trade if handled well can bring enormous benefits to transit countries. However, the Pakistan-Afghanistan transit trade has often been misused, leading to the flooding of Pakistani markets with smuggled goods. India has often asked for the transit of its goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia, but the pressures this could generate for our roads and customs infrastructure have inhibited progress.

Does this mean that Pakistan should continue to lose the enormous benefits that can accrue to it by establishing trade and investment relations with its neighbours? The obvious answer is that we should not. Look at India and China, which despite their border and other disputes, have a thriving bilateral trade that has now touched the figure of $125bn. Likewise, China and the US maintain a robust trade and investment relationship despite the onset of strategic competition between them.What Pakistan needs is a change of mindset.

Nothing should matter more to our policymakers than the socioeconomic well-being of our people, which in turn would enhance our national security. The world is changing rapidly. Nations havelearned that cooperation and competition can coexist as long as there is mutuality of benefit.

No confidence-building measure is more potent than bilateral trade as it can help reduce mutual distrust and position countries to address tougher issues on the bilateral agenda. In economic terms as well, low transportation costs, availability of road and rail links, and socially identical consumer bases provide a clear edge to trading with neighbours. The economic activity thus generated provides our traders access to vast regional markets. We need a whole new approach to positively engaging with all our neighbours in securing for our traders more opportunities of balanced and mutually beneficial trade and investment opportunities, in the larger interest of economic security of the people of Pakistan. In due course, trade and investment ties can become a building block towards durable peace in South Asia. • The writer, a former foreign secretary, is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, and author of Di piomatic Footprints.

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Defection outlawed – 18 May 2022

The decision will find its maximum at the ECP, which is set to decide the fate of PTI defectors in the Punjab Assembly

In a decisive judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled that a vote from defecting lawmakers not countable. In a much-awaited decision on a presidential reference seeking the top court’s interpretation on the fate and conduct of defectors, it was observed with a 3-2 verdict that their vote is inadmissible. The larger bench, however, refused to be judgmental on the span of disqualification, whether lifetime or for a specific period of time, and left for the parliament to decide. Likewise, it said Article 63-A cannot be read in isolation and has to be looked into in a holistic sense. The learned judges went on to state that defection can “derail parliamentary democracy and destabilize political parties”, categorically pointing out that the rights of political parties had been underlined in Article 17, while the objective of Article 63-A was to prevent defection.

The bench with a majority voice did not allow legislators to vote against party line in four instances as stated under Article 63-A: the election of PM and CM; a vote of confidence or no-confidence; a Constitution amendment bill; and a money bill. This decision will go a long way in strengthening democratic credentials and embolden the spirit of political cohesion on their expressed manifestoes. The court believes, and rightly so, that the vote is the trust of the party the legislators belong to and is not out of free will. The verdict is a shot in the arm for parliamentary sovereignty as it said that legislation is the prerogative of the elected representatives, and the court should not rule on it.

The decision will find its maximum at the ECP, which is set to decide the fate of PTI defectors in the Punjab Assembly against whom references are under scrutiny. The spirit of apex court decree disqualifies them instantly, as their vote in Hamza Shehbaz’s favour stands nullified. This puts the infant cabinet-less government of Hamza in the doldrums, and is set to send in ripple effects on the ensuing political instability. The onus is now on the elected representatives to uphold the spirit of the Constitution, and reassess their political markings, accordingly. The presidential reference hearing is in utter seriousness and its classified pronouncement has cleared the fog of whispers on defection. Voting against party spirit and floor-crossing stands outlawed.

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Sikh traders` killing – 17 May 2022

THE brutal murder of two Sikh traders in the outskirts of Peshawar on Sunday illustrates the vulnerability of minority communities in KP, as well as the threat militant groups continue to pose to the country`s security. Ranjeet and Guljeet Singh were murdered by unidentified gunmen at their shops and while no group has claimed responsibility for the atrocity, the Peshawar police chief has termed it `an act of terrorism`. There have also been other incidents in which members of the Sikh community were targeted in KP in the recent past. A Sikh hakim was murdered in October last year, with IS-Khorasan claiming responsibility for the crime, while another Sikh trader was shot in February but fortunately survived in what was termed a `robbery bid`. Meanwhile a Christian clergyman was killed on his way back from church in the KP capital in January. Considering these incidents, as well as March`s Koocha Risaldar mosque bombing, which was also the handiwork of IS-K, the threat the terrorist group poses to peace becomes clear. Moreover, elements linked to the banned TTP have also become quite active in KP and the former tribal belt, with attacks on security forces as well as civilians continuing. The latest incident not claimed by any group as yet came on Saturday when three soldiers and as many children were martyred in a suicide attack in North Waziristan.

Where the protection of minorities is concerned, security needs to be stepped up in the areas where non-Muslim citizens live, work and worship, while those involved in the murders need to be brought to justice. Overall, the state, particularly the security apparatus, needs to proactively neutralise the emerging threat, before militancy becomes an uncontrollable beast that can only be countered by large-scale military operations. Far too many soldiers and civilians have laid down their lives to quell the militant threat and their sacrifices should not be in vain. The authorities are taking action; for example an IS-K operative said to be one of the planners of the Koocha Risaldar atrocity as well as a would-be suicide bomber were reportedly killed by security forces on Saturday. More such intelligence-based operations need to be carried out to uproot the militant infrastructure that terrorists are trying to re-establish.

Moreover, the Taliban regime must clearly be communicated the fact that Afghan soil cannot be used to host anti-Pakistan terrorists, and that action must be taken against these malign actors.

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ECP verdict on deseating – 13 May 2022

Notable is the fact that despite claims about bribes, the PTI has offered no evidence to support this claim

In a decision that was widely expected, the ECP has rejected PTI references seeking deseating of its 20 dissident MNAs. Also unsurprising was the fact that the PTI will challenge the ruling, as is their right.

Surprising, however, was how party leaders and supporters continued to direct vitriol at Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, accusing him of being sympathetic to the PML-N, even though the only reason Raja has the job is that former prime minister Imran Khan picked him. Then again, the only reason Imran is a former PM is also the dissidents he gave tickets to. So perhaps this is a veiled admission of the party chief’s poor judgement of character.

The requirement for MNAs to face dismissal for ‘voting their conscience’ instead of following the party line is anti-democratic at worst and problematic at the very least — elected officials should be duty-bound to their constituents, not their party leaders. Unfortunately, the law does not clearly differentiate between defection and a vote of conscience by someone who is otherwise loyal to their party. However, while the law is not about to change because it serves the interests of party chiefs, it is interesting that the ECP appears to have agreed with the accused lawmakers that PTI had failed to follow the rather simple procedure for their removal.

Similar problems are also expected in the PTI’s reference against its Punjab MPAs, as some procedural steps, such as waiting for the MPAs to reply to show-cause notices, appear to have been skipped. This, coupled with the PTI’s repeated sagas over resigning from assemblies, has many analysts wondering if these are just tricks to inspire the base.

Also notable is the fact that despite tall claims about the lawmakers having been bribed to break from the party line, the PTI has offered no evidence to support this claim of outright criminal conduct. At the same time, the party has not really done much to refute accusations from the accused lawmakers and disgruntled former party workers regarding the incompetence and corruption of the PTI government. The Supreme Court has also brought up the exchange of accusations while hearing a case on the application of Article 63-A.

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Justice in Bhong case – 13 May 2022

The decision has come close on the heels of Priyantha Kumara’s landmark judgment against his unfortunate lynching

Justice was well-dispensed as the Rahim Yar Khan temple vandalisers were brought to book. An Anti-Terrorism Court on Thursday handed down five-year jail term with fine to each of the 22 accused in the Bhong temple attack case. The accused, on August 4, 2021, had attacked Ghanesh Mandir in Rahim Yar Khan district and ransacked its premises. It was a judicious and well-prosecuted affair, wherein the judicial arm and its affiliates, including the police and legal bureaucracy, kept their heads high as they crisscrossed through a sensitive investigation to clear the wheat from chaff. That 22 of them were zoomed in from more than 60 arrested establishes the merit of probe and sensible judgment. The rest were set free getting the benefit of the doubt. This is a welcome development and will go a long way in establishing the writ of the state and the rule of law, and nip in the bud elements who believe in politics of hate and marginalisation with minorities.

The Bhong decision has come close on the heels of Priyantha Kumara’s landmark judgment against his unfortunate lynching in Sialkot. Such recourse to law is desired, and is the only way out to deter people who obsessively indulge in highhandedness against minorities and the downtrodden, and opt for refuge in the guise of blasphemy laws. It is, however, good to see that the judiciary and the respective administrations are in a proactive mode these days, and it reflects the determination of political governments to tackle this tendency of extremism head-on.

Pakistan is a pluralistic society and one that believes in emancipation and a rational approach. Of course, there are wayward elements too who opt for jingoism while translating their narrative of otherness. This phenomenon should be dealt with strictly, and the best course is to establish the rule of law and take to task people who go on to vandalise public property and penalise the weaker sections of society. Prompt prosecution and decisions in real time will buoy the confidence of the masses in the state system and scare off unscrupulous elements from exhibiting radicalism.

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