Naya Pakistan, old bigotry
Professor Atif Mian, who was appointed to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Economic Advisory Council was made to step down. Initially, the government claimed it would stand by the Princeton-based economist, only to go back on its word when obscurantist religious groups made an issue of his Ahmadi background. Dawn, in its September 8 editorial, is unequivocal in its condemnation of the erosion of the values that Mohammad Ali Jinnah held dear — that religious identity ought not to be the business of the state. The blame lies not just with the ruling PTI, but Pakistan’s political mainstream as a whole: “The PTI has clearly erred in both strategy and political will, but none of the mainstream political parties in the country have emerged from the episode with any credit. The PPP did not join a Senate resolution calling for Prof Mian’s removal, but neither did the party publicly endorse his appointment. The political class will try and put the latest capitulation behind it quickly, but the effects will surely linger.”
Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst, explores the conditions of possibility that allow for a government to so easily reverse a principled position in an article in Dawn on September 9. He argues that “the dichotomies and paradoxes in our [Pakistan’s] social milieu” are important factors. In Pakistan “an average Pakistani wants to be progressive but within a conservative framework. The state desires to stand tall in the international community, but without reforming its institutions”. Essentially, this allows state and society to make the odd progressive statement but never really breaking from the past. Rana argues that “on the societal level, the situation is even worse and often takes the form of discrimination against weak religious communities. While militant violence is condemned, the underlying mindset, especially where it pertains to people of different faiths, is rarely addressed”.
Death as distraction
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena appears quite fond of the death penalty. After mooting the idea that those convicted of drug-related offences be hung, he has now suggested capital punishment for officials misusing public property. The editorial on September 6 in The Island asks: “What would happen if all those who abuse public property were to be hanged in keeping with the President’s wish?”
It answers that “the government and the Opposition would be left without most of its top guns, including those who protested yesterday in Colombo and their counterparts in the yahapalana camp.” Meanwhile, the committee appointed to look into a questionable deal into the new ministry of agriculture building has met only once.
While the editorial does seem to imply that the calls for hanging are a way to distract from larger failures, it does not attack the president directly nor does it take a stand against capital punishment in principle. The editorial ends by demanding action against corruption in strong words: “Now that legal action has been instituted against some of the rogues of the previous regime, President Sirisena ought to ensure that the crooks in the current administration are also hauled up before courts. Allegations of bribery and corruption against government politicians have gone unproven; they must be investigated forthwith.”
Joint military exercises among BIMSTEC nations has been a matter of some controversy since earlier this month when the regional body met in Kathmandu. In its editorial on September 6, The Kathmandu Post takes strong exception to the joint military exercises between the Indian and Nepali armies. According to the editorial, “Nepal’s decision to participate in the joint military exercise was a result of military engagement between the Nepal Army and the Indian Army, without formal dealings at the diplomatic or political level”.
The news of the exercises has prompted reactions from the government. According to the editorial, “the PM and the Foreign Minister have both claimed that the proposed military exercise is not targeted towards any individual country — it is focused solely on disaster management and counterterrorism”. “In that sense, such an exercise could help bolster relationships between allies,” says the editorial and adds “military exercises also have some ‘strategic signalling’ wherein projecting power is one of its tenets.”
The issue the editorial attempts to flag is the lack of civilian oversight in the strategic decision: “In a democracy, the military is under civilian control. It is a special government agency that is supposed to implement, rather than formulate policies or take decision solely at its own discretion.” The army, so glued to the chain of command, “must practise what it preaches”.