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DAWN Editorials – 2nd May 2016

No honour in murder

KILLING someone in cold blood is murder that merits a lengthy jail sentence, and not forgiveness.

Last week in Karachi, 16-year-old Sumaira was brutally beaten and stabbed to death by her elder brother for talking to a man. Her throat slit with a kitchen knife, she bled to death as the neighbours looked on. When her father refused to lodge an FIR, the local police intervened.

In a rare instance of integrity, they registered a report with the state as complainant — not the usual pattern in cases where an ‘honour’ crime has been committed. On the same day that Sumaira was killed, Mehrunissa was reported to have been murdered by her family in the city’s old Muzaffarabad Colony for defying social expectations.

Aurat Foundation statistics document that around 1,000 women are killed annually for bringing ‘shame’ on their families.

Their murderers gain societal respect and are supported by regressive patriarchies after they kill ‘disobedient’ female family members. Unfortunately, few cases are reported. The trials of those that do reach the courts go on for years — all the more reason for removing punishment waivers and compoundability provisions from the law books.

The 2014 case of Farzana Parveen murdered outside the Lahore High Court for marrying against her family’s wishes reminds us again of the disgraceful level of impunity that exists.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must deliver on his pledge to amend the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2004, by removing the clauses that make such murder a private offence instead of a crime against state and society.

Mr Sharif has said the killers of women will be “punished very severely” and not allowed to be forgiven by the victims’ family. For this, he will need to deviate from his 1997 precedent when the PML-N government passed the Qisas and Diyat provision making prosecution and punishment the responsibility of the victim’s heirs.

With the religious right bent upon undermining women’s rights, enacting revised laws will require determination. Precise red lines must be drawn to show that there is no honour in murder.

OBL raid, five years on

IT looks as if we are not going to have a single authoritative account of the May 2, 2011, raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden — at least not any time soon.

In fact, there will be newer claims and fresher or spruced-up versions of the event, such as the account that renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has put forward.

In a newly published book on the subject, Mr Hersh has once more made the claim that Pakistan knew where Osama bin Laden was living but that it kept this knowledge from the United States at the behest of Saudi Arabia.

Whereas some have challenged this theory, there have also been several calls for greater transparency and a frank account of the events of that fateful night.

But debate has not been able to progress on the topic since the government classified the findings of the inquiry into the incident.

Most of the report was leaked, but the full picture was still not clear. In the absence of the official report, people’s imagination has been left to feed on the visible, usual suspects, offering an escape to others who might well have been involved — much like other inquiry reports that have not seen the light of day.

Five years later, institutions in Pakistan which could help everyone arrive at some sensible explanation do not feel compelled to reveal or even probe the facts.

For want of better visibility, the attention is usually fixed almost entirely on the then army and ISI chiefs and president.

It is convenient for many that the blame for the blatant May 2011 violation of the country’s sovereignty has been put squarely on retired Gen Ashfaq Kayani, retired Lt Gen Shuja Pasha and Asif Zardari.

There is little dispute that they will be the first suspects in any investigation of one of the most humiliating incidents in the history of this country.

Yet it is far from an open and shut case. It has to be ascertained who was responsible and to what extent.

The official release of the report would be an important first step towards this goal. Otherwise, the passage of each year will make it even more difficult for Pakistanis to attempt to find answers to this riddle. There is no need to hide the truth from the people. Indeed, they are more than mature and capable of handling it.

Politicians’ road to nowhere

IT may be a forlorn hope, but there is still time for better sense to prevail. At the moment, however, it appears that political fratricide is the likely outcome, with the country’s mainstream and leading political parties seemingly oblivious to their democratic responsibilities.

Bizarrely, the PML-N appears determined to lead the charge, attacking the PTI with a gusto that suggests either misplaced confidence or great fear. Ruling parties are not supposed to behave like opposition parties, if only because it adds to the perception of political instability rather than combats it.

Consider also the tussle over government permission for the PTI rally in Lahore yesterday. Perhaps, as police officials earlier insisted, there were genuine security concerns in the provincial capital.

Yet, there is a legitimate suspicion that the PML-N uses security excuses as a cover for political ends.

The trust that all Pakistanis, non-political or political, supporters of the government or supporters of the opposition, should have in the state stands eroded by the unnecessary machinations of the ruling party.

Of course, where the PML-N is erring, the PTI seems to be set on fomenting the maximum political instability it can. True, the core of the PTI concerns may be legitimate – as the elected prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif has a great deal to answer for when it comes to the foreign assets and overall wealth of himself and his immediate family.

Moreover, the PTI has a democratic right to protest and nothing that the party has done so far suggests illegality. Yet, the PTI seems less concerned with systemic reforms than simply ratcheting up the political pressure on Mr Sharif.

The enthusiasm with which the PTI supremo takes to PTI rallies is matched only by the reluctance of the party to activate parliamentary channels for political and economic reform. Mr Khan looks worryingly more comfortable atop shipping containers than he does on the floor of parliament.

If the PML-N and PTI appear engaged in a personal war, the problem is compounded by the few outside parties that could help stabilise the country’s politics. The religious right that could mediate is busy choosing sides, with the Jamaat-i-Islami and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F pursuing narrow, parochial interests.

Meanwhile, in a bid to perhaps increase his political relevance, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has weighed in with his own attacks on Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of being soft on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, abandoning Kashmir and calling on Mr Sharif to step aside until the Panama Papers judicial commission completes its work.

With political parties shunning stability, the spectre of anti-democratic forces will loom ever larger. That is the unfortunate history of this country: enlightened actions elude politicians to the point that the political process itself is tainted and anti-democratic forces stand at the ready to reap the benefits.

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