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Express Tribune Editorials – 20th March 2016

The deportee problem

Pakistanis are being deported back to their home country from all over the world — 125 countries have deported our citizens since 2013. The vast majority of these were from Saudi Arabia — 140,393 — and another 23,330 from the United Arab Emirates. The UK deported 7,777 and the US 358. Contrary to what is widely assumed in some quarters, countries do not expel people on a whim, and they have responsibilities under a variety of international protocols and treaties to treat people equitably when it comes to deportation no matter what their nationality.

The Gulf and Arab states have by far the highest number of deportees — effectively illegal economic migrants — because that is where the jobs are and all of those deported will have gone to their country of choice in order to better themselves or their family. They may have been unable to find work in Pakistan, or at least work that paid sufficiently well to feed themselves and their extended family, and the lure of a secure income elsewhere is a powerful pull factor. They will be all too aware of the risks involved and will pay whatever price is asked by the ‘fixers’.

The sheer volume of deportees carries another less obvious difficulty running alongside — that of credibility and trust. Increasingly harsh visa conditions imposed by the countries that Pakistani people want to visit or work in are a reflection of that trust deficit. The default position for countries such as the UK and the US is to view applications from Pakistan as potentially fraudulent rather than potentially truthful. A different situation relates to the Arab and Gulf states. There, Pakistan provides a very large proportion of the migrant manual labour that supports the construction boom as well as serves the domestic household labour market. The primary reasons for deportation were passport and visa irregularities and overstays of legal visas and permits. There seems little possibility that anything is going to change in the foreseeable future, and limited opportunity in the homeland is going to drive the stream of illegal migration for many years to come.

Protection for journalists

Not without reason does Pakistan sit near the top of the list of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Journalism is a profession which if practised with integrity, manages to irk both those at the top of the food chain as well as the bottom feeders. Journalists regularly receive threats and these are sometimes followed through in a brutal manner. Over the years, reporters have been kidnapped, beaten and killed. Their places of work have had to turn into mini-fortresses with multiple layers of security to prevent attacks. Journalists have had their work censored due to fears of retaliation, or they have had to practise self-censorship for the same reason. There is a built-in culture of impunity that allows crimes against journalists go uninvestigated and unpunished and this, in turn, encourages offended parties to take matters into their own hands when they are presented in an unfavourable light by the media.

Given these circumstances, we welcome the decision by the district and sessions court of Karak to convict the killer of Ayub Khattak, a senior journalist in the area. The accused has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a fine of Rs500,000 for shooting Mr Khattak to death outside his home in October 2013. Unfortunately, it is not often that the law-enforcement agencies and courts of Pakistan decide to take an interest in the frequent threats and attakcs faced by the journalist community. Little is on offer in the way of protection and the prospect of sudden and violent death is seen as part of the job if one chooses to take on some of the more contentious issues. This is a widespread problem faced both by local and national media outlets and their reporters. The power of the pen rarely protects against bullets. If our elected representatives wish to present a more positive image of the country abroad as they frequently claim, a firmer stance on protection of media personnel would be a good place to start. Pakistan is not a war zone like Syria or Iraq but for those wearing a press badge, it can sometimes feel that way.

A promising auto policy

After much deliberation and a very lengthy wait, the auto policy was finally approved by the Economic Coordination Committee on March 15, clearing months of speculation as to the kinds of incentives that would be offered to carmakers other than the existing three in the market. While the existing auto industry boasts of its growth — which, one must note, has come on the back of several external factors that have aided its profitability — there was growing resentment among the public and official circles that have criticised the lack of competition and choice as well as the high price of vehicles in Pakistan. Hence, the auto policy was not just meant to serve as a tool to address these issues, but also present the government’s vision for the country’s auto sector.

The policy does not increase the age limit on the import of used cars, maintaining the status quo of three years. But it has incentivised potential entrants by offering them lower tax rates on localised and imported parts, duty-free import of plant and machinery for setting up assembly and manufacturing facilities, while permitting the import of 100 vehicles of the same variants in the form of completely built units at 50 per cent of the prevailing duty for test marketing after the groundbreaking of the project. These incentives are likely to persuade foreign manufacturers to establish a footprint in Pakistan, where a sizeable demand exists, helped by low oil prices, availability of cheap financing and lack of an efficient public transport system. The three existing carmakers are not going to be too happy with these measures. The government has also excluded the definition of medium knocked down units, indicating that the plan is clear — enable the manufacturer to establish a full-fledged plant in the country. The Board of Investment chairman has said that the existing car manufacturers will not be entitled to the benefits that are being offered to the new investors. We welcome the auto policy and hope it helps revive sick units, attracts foreign manufacturers and increases competition among carmakers for the greater public good.

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