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DAWN Editorials - 4th July 2015

DAWN Editorials – 28th March 2016

Missing a fair probe

THE suicide of a young man last week was a sinister turn in a story which has been shrouded in mystery all along.

The boy, identified as Saddam, killed himself over his inability to emotionally cope with the forced absence of his sister Zeenat Shahzadi. The latter was said to be on the trail of an Indian national involved in unusual activity in Pakistan.

The story began in Mumbai with Hamid Ansari, an Indian citizen attempting to help a Pakistan-based girl he struck up a friendship with online. We are told that Ansari came to Pakistan via Kabul, illegally, and was taken into custody by the agencies sometime in 2012.

Later on, he found an unlikely champion of his cause in Zeenat Shahzadi who has been described as a Lahore-based journalist. She somehow managed to get the power of attorney from Ansari’s mother in India.

If this were not already enough of a jumble, the case was further complicated when, like the man she was out to save, Zeenat Shahzadi, too, suddenly disappeared without a trace in August 2015.

She is believed to be in the custody of the agencies whereas it has been reported that Ansari was sentenced to three years for espionage.

The family of Zeenat Shahzadi and Saddam have taken a long while to discuss the case in the media and there may be some other details that remain hidden and which could be crucial to forming an informed opinion on this affair.

This is precisely the point from where the discussion has to begin: there has to be some kind of principle, some law, that makes it incumbent on the agencies to share information with the public.

If the agencies are involved, they should let the public know what the two missing persons are suspected of doing, produce them and allow them to defend themselves in court.

Lack of transparency breeds suspicion. The law has to be clearly defined. The penalty has to be proportional to the crime.

Long-awaited census

THE Council of Common Interests has met again, and, despite having the long-overdue population census at the top of its agenda, has failed one more time to arrive at a precise timetable for conducting the exercise.

Friday’s meeting in Islamabad marks the second within the very month the census exercise was due to swing into action. At the recent meeting, as during the one held earlier this month, it was reiterated that the unavailability of troops for security was the major stumbling block.

The official statement released after the meeting said that the secretary of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics had held a series of meetings with provincial governments and the armed forces, and that it had been estimated that around 300,000 troops are required “to ensure man-to-man coverage as well as lend credibility and security to the operation”. But, the Friday CCI meeting was informed, the troops could not be spared given that Operation Zarb-i-Azb was under way.

Reportedly, the option of a phased census was also discussed at the meeting, but was dismissed because of “inherent flaws”.

At least part of the explanation seems more like an excuse given that hurdles were obvious right at the outset when the conversation about holding a census was initiated. In reality, as has seemed the case for many years now, the major impediment is quite simply that the required political will is absent.

The interests of all the political actors involved are clearly better served by the status quo since it is likely that a new census — which was last held in 1998 though the law mandates one being held every decade — would throw up changed demographics that could potentially alter the very foundations of the political system as it operates now.

This would include the share of the provinces under the federal divisible pool, the fresh demarcation of constituencies, the distribution of national and provincial assembly seats, and even job quotas in federal government departments. All of these are settled on the basis of the provinces’ population.

Yet delaying the exercise will not achieve any purpose, and much will be lost.

By all accounts, were the census exercise to be initiated even now, some six to eight months would be consumed in arriving at the results, only after which the fresh demarcation of constituencies could be achieved.

With national elections due in 2018, it is in the political parties’ own interests to speed up the census-taking process.

Rouhani’s visit

While Iranian and Pakistani leaders are quick to point out the historical, cultural and geographical links Tehran and Islamabad share, the truth is that there is much unrealised potential within this relationship.

The recently concluded two-day visit of President Hassan Rouhani to Pakistan, in which the Iranian leader led a large delegation of officials and businessmen, can be a turning point in improving bilateral relations in every sphere — political, economic, cultural etc.

For long, Pakistan was hesitant to respond to the overtures of its western neighbour, mainly due to the nuclear sanctions that had been slapped on Iran. But now that Tehran has mostly been freed of these strictures, there should be little standing in the way of a more productive bilateral relationship.

President Rouhani met Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership, discussing economic and geopolitical matters.

From Pakistan’s perspective, if the fruits of regional economic integration, eg through projects like CPEC, are to be reaped by this country, then there is no alternative but to trade with our neighbours.

Currently, bilateral trade with Iran stands at an unimpressive $250m. In comparison, Iran’s trade with other regional states, such as India and the UAE, is worth billions of dollars.

Instead of trading through third countries or letting smugglers exploit the situation, both countries would do well to create the infrastructure and legal platforms that can facilitate smooth cross-border trade and people-to-people contacts.

Strangely, there was no mention of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline; the Iranian president reportedly called for finalising the project soon. The government must explain why this key scheme was not brought up during such an important visit.

As for security and geopolitical matters, it is welcome that possibilities of cooperation between Gwadar and Chabahar were discussed.

These ports need not be rivals; instead, both can have a role to play in promoting regional connectivity.

About India’s closeness with Iran and reports of the involvement of Indian intelligence in Balochistan — which shares a long border with Iran — the Iranian and Pakistani security establishments need to discuss the issue constructively.

If Pakistan has solid evidence that Iranian soil is being used against this country, then it must be presented to Tehran.

In the past, Iranian officials have also claimed that anti-Tehran militants have found refuge in Pakistan.

Both Islamabad and Tehran must realise that instead of pointing fingers, a combined effort is needed to combat militants and criminals operating in the border region, as insecurity in either country will make dreams of economic integration unrealisable.

Moreover, regardless of how the situation develops in the Middle East, Pakistan should endeavour to maintain cordial links with Iran as well as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arabs.

The months ahead will tell whether or not the promises made in Islamabad by the respective leaderships will translate into a robust, healthy bilateral relationship.

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