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DAWN Editorials – 11th May 2016

New Panama names

MORE names have been added to the registry of notoriety that has become the Panama Papers and once again a section of Pakistan’s wealthy class is facing uncomfortable questions. Yet, is action — where allowed and required under the law — imminent?

Unhappily, aside from facing a media trial, the individuals named in the Panama Papers do not appear likely to face any immediate legal jeopardy or even a thorough investigation of their declared income and wealth.

That situation is all the more astonishing given the public anger that has steadily grown since the Panama Papers first ensnared the political and moneyed class of the country.

Pakistan, it appears, is a country where justified and sustained public anger does not lead to the people’s elected representatives taking the necessary steps to address real and ongoing problems that the people want addressed.

Part of the problem is clearly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N. The ruling party has responded fiercely to the allegations against the first family, but in a thoroughly inappropriate political manner.

Rather than acting immediately and incontrovertibly to reconcile the disclosures in the Panama Papers with the declared income and assets of the first family, the N-League has turned to a combination of patronage politics and delaying tactics to shield the Sharifs.

The fundamental problem with the PML-N’s stance is that while it is protecting its prerogative to legislate and make new laws, it is unwilling to accept that Prime Minister Sharif should, therefore, be the first to be properly and fully vetted by an independent commission.

In essence, Mr Sharif is arguing that as elected leader of the country he has significant privileges, but not commensurate responsibilities. That is a transparently undemocratic position to take.

Yet, try as it might and much as it may wish, the PML-N’s political problems are not likely to dissipate. It is a measure of the party’s reluctance to engage in true democratic behaviour that a decision by the prime minister to attend parliament later this week will likely be spun as a victory by the party.

In truth, what the Panama Papers have revealed is more than a problem that can be addressed by a one-time judicial commission, no matter how empowered, independent and thorough it may be in its workings.

It is an institutional failing across the board that has led to a situation where few are surprised by the revelations but little can be done to investigate and hold accountable the country’s wealthy individuals, especially among the political class.

Statutory authorities such as the FBR and NAB are little more than a jumble of alphabets when they cannot act independently and meaningfully to detect and punish defrauding of the national exchequer.

The Panama Papers could yet become a moment of reset for the country’s institutions — but will the political class allow that to happen?

OPP director’s murder

THE lackadaisical progress on the investigation into Perween Rahman’s murder offers several insights into why the well-known social activist and development expert died at all.

It is only now, three years later, that Raheem Swati, the prime suspect, has been arrested.

The relentless legal campaign fought by Rahman’s family and friends to compel the police to undertake a thorough and credible investigation into her death and the close interest evinced by a responsive apex court in the matter, played a large role in whatever progress has been made until now.

Rahman was shot dead on March 13, 2013, while on her way home from her work as director of the Orangi Pilot Project Research and Training Institute.

The very next day, the police announced with much fanfare that the suspected assassin, Qari Bilal, had been killed in an ‘encounter’. That claim, coming so quickly on the heels of the crime, was in itself reason to suspect that the murder was being conveniently dismissed as an open-and-shut case.

The judicial commission ordered by the apex court in June 2014 exposed the police’s deliberate misrepresentation of facts and efforts at a cover-up. Those familiar with the environment in which Rahman worked were not surprised.

A criminalised politics, in which corrupt law-enforcement agencies play an integral part, has long been a feature of Karachi.

This teeming metropolis of 20 million continues to expand haphazardly, which places enormous pressure on its resources — foremost among them land and water. That in turn has given rise to formidable mafias whose fortunes are built on the plunder of the city’s resources which they sell to the highest bidder.

Perween Rahman was a passionate advocate for the collective right of all Karachiites to basic services such as affordable housing and water supply; in the process, she had made some very powerful enemies.

Aside from her extensive research into the theft of water through illegal hydrants in the city, she was documenting the many villages in Karachi which, in the absence of legal title, are often the first to fall prey to land-grabbers. From what is so far known, Raheem Swati is but a low-level player in a high-stakes enterprise.

Only an investigation led by officials with an unimpeachable record would be able, and willing, to connect all the dots and unearth the real culprits behind a crime that robbed this country of one of its brightest lights.

Campus moral police

ONCE again, a university has issued an official notification placing restrictions on the dress that students can wear on campus.

It has justified this as an effort “to promote a positive image” of the university. The institute in question is the National Textile University in Faisalabad, and the restrictions that are spelled out in the notification are absurd considering the close connection between the textile and fashion industries in Pakistan.

For example, “stylish sunglasses” and designer caps will no longer be allowed on campus. Banned also are “t-shirts or any clothes carrying emblems, letters, art of slogans and pictures printed on them”.

Simply by issuing this notification, the university management — led by its registrar — has exposed itself to mockery.

Arguing that such codes are required to ensure that the students’ dress code is “in accordance with the values enshrined in the divine code and in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan” takes the fun out of the joke, but nothing more.

It is not the job of the registrar of any university, let alone one dedicated to the study of textiles, to enforce a dress code on its students. It is shameful to see the management backing this absurd action and invoking divinity and the country’s Constitution in the process.

Reportedly, the notification has generated protests from amongst the student body, which is entirely appropriate, and the parents of the protesting students ought to support them.

Increasingly, universities across Pakistan are resorting to such tactics — only recently NUST issued a similar code and started fining students for violations — and the trend shows that university administrations are more interested in the moral policing of their campuses than in ensuring excellence in the standard of education.

If the administrations of these institutions are truly concerned about their image, they would clearly lay out and enforce policies against gender discrimination and sexual harassment on their campuses first. Let the parents worry about what the students are wearing.

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