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DAWN Editorials – 19th March 2016

Attacks on journalists

ON Wednesday, the courts in Karak district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, awarded life imprisonment and a fine of Rs5 million to one of the men accused of gunning down in cold blood journalist Ayub Khattak on Oct 11, 2013.

While grief cannot be assuaged, that the long wait for justice — nearly two years in this case — is finally over and the murderer is behind bars may bring much-needed closure to the family of Mr Khattak.

The circumstances of his death say much about the dangerous terrain journalists in this country must traverse in the pursuit of their duties.

Mr Khattak had been a reporter for the daily Karak Times and had published a story regarding drug smuggling and the sale of illicit substances in the area, as a result of which police action was initiated.

According to the counsel for the complainant, after delivering several death threats, the defendants intercepted Mr Khattak’s motorcycle that day and shot him dead at point-blank range.

If the circumstances of the killing tell a story, so does that of the sentencing. That the trial took two years to wind through the justice system is regrettable enough.

But even more of an indictment is found in the fact that Mr Khattak’s case is only the third one in the country’s history where the killers of journalists have been identified, apprehended and convicted.

Since 2000, well over 100 journalists and media workers have been killed in Pakistan in the course of their duties. But trial and conviction has been achieved only in the cases of Daniel Pearl and Wali Khan Babar, and now in the case of Mr Khattak.

No wonder, then, that those who would harass and intimidate journalists — be they criminals, militants or even elements within the state apparatus — operate with brazen impunity.

The situation must be rectified, urgently. It is imperative that the state vigorously pursue all cases where media workers have been targeted, thereby sending out the signal that tactics of intimidation will not be tolerated.

Auto policy, finally

AFTER a number of failed beginnings, the ECC has finally approved an auto policy that could kick-start a round of fresh investments in this vital sector which has seen a large boom in the past year.

The new policy aims to break the years’ long pattern of wrestling between the government and the auto giants, by providing incentives for fresh entrants to come into the market.

Since the late 1980s, Pakistan’s auto sector has been dominated by three assemblers, who have had to be pushed into making investments to localise the manufacture of components and spares, keep prices competitive, maintain output to keep pace with demand, and introduce new models on a regular basis.

The auto makers have their own point of view in all this, particularly of late when they claim, with merit to their case, that a large and growing cash economy has turned new cars into a speculative product, creating a secondary market of sorts where ‘own’ money dominates.

The government has done the right thing to emphasise on new entrants in the market above anything else. This is the best way to inject some fresh energy into the auto sector where booming sales are catching the eyes of other manufacturers.

The sector could use some healthy competition, and the policy pursued by previous government since the expiration of the last auto policy in 2012 to promote competition by encouraging imports of used cars, was counterproductive.

A stable horizon for the next five years in terms of tariffs applicable to the new entrants and imported cars will do more to encourage investment than ad hoc changes in the tariffs of used cars.

Ad hoc moves of the sort that have been used since 2012 have hurt investment and introduced distortions in the behaviour of auto makers.

The new policy gives them a stable environment, and even though they are likely to make a fuss about the preferential treatment that new entrants will be given, at least they will know that their comfort zone is about to be disrupted.

Hopefully, this will spur a little more energy in the sector, which is sitting on massive cash reserves ready to invest, as pointed out by the State Bank at the start of the week.

Now that a policy has been announced, and competition may well be on the horizon, they have every reason to invest rather than hoard their cash.

Pak-India peace process

THE imminent trip by a Pakistani investigation team to India is both necessary and history-making. The Pathankot air force base attack in early January was a grim episode that could have yet again derailed dialogue between Pakistan and India.

It goes to the credit of the governments of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the Pathankot attack did not cause the rupture that it could have and both governments have kept the channels of communication open.

Yet, nearly three months will have passed since the attack by the time the Pakistani investigation team arrives in India later this month.

In the meantime, the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue both countries so boldly agreed to late last year has all but stalled. It is time for that process to begin and, therefore, it is disappointing that a meeting on the sidelines of a Saarc summit in Nepal between Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj did not go far beyond talk of the Pathankot probe.

Resumption of dialogue — or, technically, the start of the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue — hinges on two things. In administrative terms, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan must meet to determine a schedule for meetings of the various dialogue sub-groups and determine how a first round of talks will move ahead.

So far, the two governments appear reluctant to announce a date for the foreign secretaries’ meeting, suggesting a link to progress on the Pakistani side of the Pathankot investigation.

In political terms, Mr Modi and Mr Sharif will need to invest their time and capital in dialogue — both to ensure that it restarts and, subsequently, to nudge bureaucratic negotiations towards results. Thus far, both leaders have only demonstrated a willingness to take risks in meeting each other — but not the willingness or confidence to actually move dialogue forward. That must change.

Necessary and welcome as prime ministerial interactions are, they must go beyond tentative ideas. When Mr Modi and Mr Sharif next meet, the emphasis must be on substance. Regional hopes for peace could soon turn to a familiar disillusionment if the two prime ministers reduce their meetings to desultory photo ops.

Perhaps what India needs to recognise is that dialogue should not hinge on any single issue, especially if that issue is a militant attack meant to derail dialogue.

Moreover, the terrorism threat in the region can only be combated by joint action by Pakistan and India — and dialogue alone offers the opportunity to create a robust framework for joint action against militancy and terrorism.

Yet, Pakistan needs to acknowledge the centrality of terrorism to India’s concerns about its relationship with Pakistan. The recent sharing of intelligence with the Indian national security adviser by Pakistan was a positive step. Faster action on the Pathankot and Mumbai attacks would send a stronger signal yet.

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