One year. Even for a country that has witnessed a tableau of horrors over the past several years, Dec 16, 2014 set a new, terrible milestone.
On that day, we learnt that what had gone before could yet be surpassed, that even our children could be deliberately singled out for brutality of the most unspeakable kind. On that day, 144 innocents — 122 students, and 22 teachers and support staff of the Army Public School, Peshawar — were massacred in a terrorist attack that plunged the country into mourning and sent shockwaves around the world.
It was a defining moment in Pakistan’s war against terrorism. By laying bare our helplessness in the face of such wholesale, pitiless slaughter, that moment tapped into our deepest fears. It changed us, but not necessarily in ways that can take us closer to the hope of an enduring peace.
Our response, rather than being guided by reason, was born of the desire for revenge. In the immediate aftermath, the government lifted the unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, asserting that only those convicted of terrorism would be executed.
But in the 12 months since, only about 20pc of more than 300 death-row inmates who have been hanged had been so convicted. Vengeance is incapable of inducing justice because it casts its net wide, scooping up not only the guilty — if it does that at all — but also those who are the most disadvantaged.
That is especially so in the case of Pakistan’s deeply flawed criminal justice system where the resources of the accused often determine guilt or innocence, death or freedom. Moreover, military courts, hastily acquiesced to by a government that placed expediency — and pressure from an ascendant security establishment — over its duty to protect fundamental rights, have ushered in a ‘justice’ mechanism unprecedented in its opaqueness.
Thus, over the course of the past year, this country has not only gone against the tide of global opinion that is increasingly turning away from the death penalty, but has also violated international covenants on civil rights.
Certainly, some sorely needed measures were also taken. The government announced a comprehensive National Action Plan for tackling religious extremism in society.
There has been a crackdown against hate speech; some suspect madressahs have been closed down; the leadership of sectarian organisations has been largely neutralised.
At the same time, much remains to be done. This country’s ill-conceived journey on the road to extremism has been long, complex and multi-layered. Finding our way back to a kinder, more tolerant place will be far from easy.
To do so requires society to abandon a long-held triumphalist narrative that makes a virtue of rigid dogma and faith-based persecution. But it is a battle we must take on — for our own sake, and that of the children who paid the ultimate price on Dec 16, 2014. It would, perhaps, be the most fitting tribute to their all-too-brief time on this earth.
IT is certainly a complicated date in the history of the subcontinent. Pakistan and Bangladesh, having achieved independence as a single entity, were broken apart on Dec 16, 1971. Known in present-day Pakistan as the Fall of Dhaka, it is celebrated in Bangladesh as the culmination of the War of Liberation.
Pakistan and Bangladesh need never have been torn apart, but historic, undeniable mistakes by West Pakistani leaders, the eagerness of India to help dismantle the Pakistani project, and — it must not be denied — the struggle of East Pakistan’s leaders contributed to the creation of a new nation-state.
More than four decades on, the wounds caused by those wrenching events ought to have healed, but they are in fact being reopened by the Bangladeshi government.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of Mujibur Rehman and leader of the Awami League, appears to have decided that her domestic battles with the Bangladesh National Party and sundry Islamist opposition parties, headlined by the Jamaat-i-Islami, is best fought by dragging Pakistan into the controversy.
Vilifying Pakistan, forcing through dubious trials in the International Crimes Tribunal — a national court, executing Bangladeshi political leaders who supported unity in 1971, and creating new and wholly unnecessary hurdles in the issuance of visas for Pakistanis, Ms Wajed and her supporters have run the gamut from dangerous cynicism to state-sanctioned violence.
This needs to stop. Pakistan, for all the mistakes its leaders made between 1947 and 1971, is supportive of Bangladesh, respectful of its independence and seeks closer, mutually beneficial ties. But the Bangladeshi government only appears willing to see Pakistan through the prism of domestic politics.
With the Khaleda Zia-led BNP and its Islamist allies implacably opposed to an AL government, Ms Wajed and her government have opted to retaliate rather than seek reconciliation.
That, in the AL’s reckoning, involves reiterating the party’s liberation credentials — which in turn means escalating Pakistan-bashing. It is dangerous stuff. Unhappily, the response by Pakistan has been less than edifying.
Be it elements within the political government or the Islamist parties or sections of the military establishment, the reaction to Bangladeshi provocations has been to launch into incendiary rhetoric here. That is, to put it mildly, historically incongruous.
For a country that, among other shameful measures, long suppressed the only official report on the events leading up to December 1971, it is perhaps best to always keep a hand outstretched to Bangladesh — no matter the immediate response from the other side.
THE spinning sector is once again warning that it is on the verge of a shutdown. Its representative, the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, says that the spinning sector is prepared to shut down its factories given the continuous increases in production costs, and the impending gas-load management plan that is set to shut off gas to industry in Punjab in order to divert supplies to domestic consumers.
The warning comes at a time when Pakistan’s exports are already on a downward path, with no uptick in sight. The problem is that nobody can figure out how to resolve it.
Gas supplies are dwindling, and SNGPL supplies are inadequate to meet the requirement of domestic consumers in the freezing winter months.
Resultantly, arranging additional supplies of gas for industry is not feasible. The other items on the menu of complaints laid out by the textile industry — tax issues, overvalued currency, import of cheap Indian yarn — are too small to make a dent. Other emerging market economies, which are Pakistan’s competitors in the international arena, are using a mix of currency devaluation and tax rebates to breathe some life into their similarly moribund exports.
But the larger problem is that Pakistan’s exports are stuck in a narrow band of cotton products, whereas preferences in market destinations are shifting quickly, further constraining room for growth in exports.
Breathing life into industry using inflationary measures, or through diverting vital gas supplies from other equally deserving categories of consumers, or bargaining with the tax base, can be a temporary measure at best. Efforts by government and industry representatives to sit down and evolve a path of consensus were tried a few months ago, without yielding any major breakthrough other than a regulatory duty on cotton imports.
The matter is becoming serious, and the government needs to think a little outside the box to try and develop a response to a problem that is growing bigger with each passing year.
QCG meeting CONVENED after three turbulent months, the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group …