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DAWN Editorials – 27th March 2016

Erdogan’s war on media

ISN’T President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — with full respect to him — debasing himself by being a complainant in a case that involves one of democracy’s fundamental principles: media freedom? On Friday, a Turkish court ordered that two of Turkey’s leading journalists, Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, its Ankara bureau chief, be tried in camera and agreed to have the president as a complainant. The two have been accused of espionage because they published a report that said Turkish intelligence agencies were sending arms to Syria under cover of humanitarian aid, though the government says the trucks were carrying relief goods for ethnic Turkmen. According to President Erdogan, the report was part of an attempt to undermine the country’s international standing. The court accepted the prosecutors’ plea that evidence to be produced in court involved state secrets.

There is no denying President Erdogan’s popularity. The fact that the November re-election gave his Justice and Development Party (AKP) an absolute majority in parliament testifies to a popular approval of his economic policies, which have given the Turks a higher standard of living and made Turkey the world’s 15th largest economy. These assets should help the president develop greater confidence in his ability to stand dissent. Instead, his policies over the years have been characterised by strong authoritarian tendencies, with the media and judiciary coming under intense state pressure. Earlier this month, the state took over Zaman, its sister publication Today’s Zaman and news agency Cihan. Seen in the light of the crackdown on Cumhuriyet the world wouldn’t be wrong if it considered the AKP regime as waging war on Turkey’s vibrant media. There is no doubt Turkey needs political stability more than ever before, especially because of the Syrian civil war and a spate of terror attacks in Istanbul and Ankara. But political stability is not incompatible with freedom of expression. If the Cumhuriyet journalists have violated any laws, they must be given an open, fair trial.

World T20 debacle

THE Pakistanis are out of the ICC World T20. A poor campaign has thus come to the inglorious end it deserved. Early this month, with all the pre-tour security jitters put to rest after assurances from the Indian government at the start of the high-profile event, the players were required to focus on cricket and win three games out of the scheduled four to bag a spot in the semi-finals. Instead, they failed to measure up, winning just one game against the beleaguered Bangladesh side and losing three. The hard truth is that Pakistan did not have the wherewithal — in terms of temperament or tactics — to do well. Either batting first or chasing the target, the Greenshirts never displayed the required gumption. There seemed to be no game plan; what one saw was defensiveness followed by panic. The batting was thoughtless, the bowling wavered and the fielding was atrocious. Skipper Afridi, under fire for his own sketchy form and batting order blunders, fell short of motivating his teammates. Pakistan’s dressing room, too, appeared restive despite the presence of half a dozen coaches as rumours of internal strife and bloated egos became rampant.

Up until the beginning of the new millennium, Pakistan’s cricket team, while living up to their reputation of being mercurial and unpredictable, could still produce match-winners such as Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Aamir, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Asif and others. Regretfully, the cupboard appears quite bare today. The game suffers as it is bereft of competent administrators and professional, match-winning players who were once the fulcrum of Pakistan’s batting and bowling. As most critics would agree, the 15 representing Pakistan at the ICC World T20 were perhaps the best available in the country, give or take a few. Distressingly though, their best was not good enough. Players such as Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Umer Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Irfan and Khalid Lateef are indeed skilful but they lack the temperament and the mental strength to win pressure games at this level. That is the challenge they need to take on instead of moaning and groaning about the lack of cricket at home and the alleged discrimination of selectors and coaches. In the end, there is not much that the PCB administration and tour management did right in this campaign. And since they don’t seem to have an effective remedy for the many ills plaguing Pakistan cricket, the situation warrants an overhaul.

India must explain

WHEN foreign spies are caught, a slew of questions inevitably follows. However, this much is already clear: India’s initial response to the Pakistani claims has been unsatisfactory and it does appear that the Indian national apprehended in Balochistan was in Pakistan illegally and for unlawful purposes. For years now, as the Pakistani state has struggled to end the low-level insurgency in Balochistan and contended with other forms of militancy in the province, the government has claimed that the separatists and sundry militants in Balochistan have received external support. The finger of blame pointed at India has been insistent, but the evidence — at least that brought in the public domain — has been lacking. The capture of the alleged Indian spy has changed all of that. It is not only India that needs to answer serious questions here; Iran, which hosted the alleged spy, needs to investigate — and explain — the matter at its end. The national security adviser should be mobilised to make clear Pakistan’s concerns and demand assurances about non-interference.

What is particularly troubling about the capture of the alleged spy is that the Indian national was operating on Pakistani soil just as the state here is working to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism of all stripes. From the relative openness with which the possible involvement of Pakistani nationals in the Pathankot attack has been acknowledged, to the commitment to pursue a probe against those involved in the attack, to the alacrity with which intelligence was shared with India recently to warn of a potential cross-border assault by non-state actors, Pakistan is not just changing international perceptions about the state, but perhaps security policy too. Surely, that is a process in which India should partner Pakistan to achieve the stable and prosperous region that both countries have long desired. But the policy confusion on the part of the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi only appears to be continuing. Mr Modi and his national security and foreign policy teams seem unsure whether they want to engage Pakistan or rebuff it. The doubts about policy cohesion in India look set to continue.

For its part, while Pakistan must vigorously pursue the matter of the Indian spy with the Indian government, the state must remain mindful of two things. First, the matter must be handled professionally, lawfully and soberly — or else there’s a risk of inflaming anti-India sentiment and creating fresh space for extremist elements here. Second, the Pathankot investigation and dialogue with India should be kept on track. An Indian spy captured on Pakistan soil in an area wracked by a long-running insurgency is a very serious problem. Yet, just as India should not make dialogue hostage to a single issue, Pakistan should deal with the matter of the alleged spy in its proper context.

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