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Express Tribune Editorials – 18th May 2016

Impasse over Panama

The appearance of the prime minister in parliament on May 16 has done nothing to dampen the fires ignited by the Panama Papers affair. He made no effort to directly answer the seven questions addressed to him by the opposition parties and spoke from a prepared script, in the process raising more questions than he answered. He proposed the formation of a parliamentary committee, which would include members of the government and the opposition, to rewrite the terms of reference (ToR) for a judicial commission that the chief justice has already said that he is not willing to set up without the underpinning legislation — which can only be enacted by parliament. As an exercise in parliamentary irrelevance, the prime minister’s speech was flawless. As a resolution to what is now a deeply embedded systemic political crisis, it rates a minus number.
The opposition parties chose to walk out rather than make a response to the prime minister in parliament and there is no obvious way out of what is a genuinely intractable problem. The prime minister’s calls for more stringent accountability laws in the country is all very well but there is now so much unfinished business on the table that he might as well have called for a cessation of all the conflicts in the world — tomorrow. With the opposition now having reached an impasse with the government, parliament itself as an institution has an insignificant role. Neither side is willing to use the machinery of parliament in a way that accommodates the other. For Imran Khan, this is an opportunity to undermine the prime minister that is far more potent than the always shaky rigging allegations, and the longer the affair drags on, the weaker the prime minister becomes, drained by the energy required to hold an unsustainable position. Governance is now ticking over on autopilot. With the holy month of Ramazan three weeks away, there seems little chance of a resolution before it commences. Some very difficult days lie ahead and perhaps it is hoping for too much for the government and the opposition to show the maturity to thrash out consensus-based ToRs, and use the forum of parliament to resolve this crisis.

Pak-US ties — a downward spiral

Relations between Pakistan and the US are on yet another downward swing. In accordance with an oft-repeated pattern of cooperation followed by coldness, the US is once again reevaluating the extent of its relationship with Pakistan. Most recently, US lawmakers moved to stop the government from funding a sale of eight F-16 jets to Pakistan. Alarm bells are now going off, as this could be an indicator of a further cooling of relations similar to that after 1989. The official Pakistani explanation put forward regarding this change claims that it is due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the presence of strong Indian lobbying forces in Washington. It is felt that the US is both anxious to undermine China’s influence in the region and to strengthen its ties with India.
While both these reasons might be part of the problem, they do not present the whole picture. Pakistan has been slow to move when it comes to the matter that has always raised serious concerns with the US administration: terrorism. Individuals and outfits considered dangerous enough to pose a direct threat to US interests in the region have not always been pursued with alacrity. Our foreign policy, too, is struggling due to the absence of a full-time foreign minister who can represent the country’s best interests abroad. Indian lobbyists may have been successful in promoting a certain narrative on Pakistan in the US; it is after all what they are paid to do. But what about our own lobbyists in Washington and their failure to protect our relationship with the US against external influences? This is not to say that the demands placed on Pakistan by the US are always wholly justified. As a sovereign nation, Pakistan must first and foremost protect its own best interests, which include having a stable relationship with China. However, the importance of US goodwill to Pakistan cannot be understated and our policy in certain matters is well worth a revisit.

Sexual harassment on campus

A female professor from the University of Karachi (KU) has been facing a taxing dilemma for two months now. She was sexually harassed multiple times by a male colleague, teaching at the university’s Pakistan Studies department. She is yet to receive a verdict by the committee appointed by KU on the case. Since this case came to light, many students have also come forward with complaints against the same male instructor. Sexual harassment at our educational institutions throws light upon the plight of women in this staunchly patriarchal society. Women in Pakistan may have been entering educational institutions in increasing numbers in recent years, but this by no means implies that their journey in these institutions is trouble-free.
While there is legislation in place that protects females against sexual harassment at the workplace, it is imperfectly implemented often due to the reluctance of top managements at organisations to take the perpetrator to task. In addition, this legislation does not protect the rights of female students who may have been sexually harassed in educational institutions. Therefore, currently the onus to deal fairly with cases of sexual harassment of students falls on administrations of institutions. Institutions, the world over, operate with handbooks that clearly outline guidelines and legal implications for teachers and students who flout them. This seems to be missing at our institutions. Instead, the natural response in this particular case has apparently been to protect the perpetrator. Educational institutions in our country, in fact all workplaces, must have clear guidelines on how to deal with sexual harassment cases that encourage victims to come forward and feel safe when they report such cases. What is also needed is legislation to protect students who are sexually harassed and the implementation of all laws on sexual harassment. It goes without saying that it is the right of all students and teachers to be able to pursue their goals in a harassment-free environment. We need to make sure this happens.
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