Little space in the media has been accorded to a complex problem of international relations, a problem that has a direct link to Pakistan. It was highlighted by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who was addressing a special session of the UN General Assembly on the global drug problem. Simply put, the global drugs problem is being tackled in a variety of ways and not all of those ways are complementary. There is a disjunction between the way some countries are seeking to manage the problem, particularly of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine; and the parts of the world that see hard drug production and transit as not just a matter of management but eradication.
The minister pointed out that there is an emerging trend in some countries to legalise illicit drugs with the attached risk that this will boost drug demand, a not unnatural conclusion to make. He said, and it is hard to disagree with him, that legalisation and the development of a culture of tolerance does little but “ignite the supply chain” and considering that Pakistan is a country along that chain, he is right to raise concerns. The liberalisation of drug regimes in one part of the world has unfortunate consequences in another. Pakistan has worked, with only limited success, to create a drug-free society — or at least a society that is not drug-tolerant. We have a robust and comprehensive legal policy to counter drug trafficking and are a leader globally in the seizure of illicit substances, with 342 tonnes being intercepted in the last year alone. As the minister correctly pointed out, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the global drug problem, and the dynamics of the drug trade differs from country to country and region to region. We already have a serious and largely unaddressed problem of illegal drug use across the country, an unrecognised national emergency. The development of tolerant regimes elsewhere is bad news for Pakistan and does nothing to further international harmony.
According to a recent report published by Reporters Without Borders on April 20, Pakistani journalists have a cause to celebrate, albeit a small one. Pakistan has jumped up 12 points in the World Press Freedom index to 147th place out of 180 countries. It has further been said that the Pakistani media is freer than other Asian countries when it comes to reporting the internal political situation. However, this rating is still abysmally low and Pakistani journalists find themselves working in tough circumstances where they face multiple threats. Both the state and militant groups are known to have targeted media houses and journalists who take the risk of reporting on their activities. There is little in the way of support from law enforcement agencies. Those who attack journalists and their places of work are rarely punished for their crimes. Journalists are fair game, in other words, regardless of whether they work for big name organisations or are reporting in the local press of small towns.
This attitude of strong-arming reporters into silence is a long held tradition. Journalists who choose to go off the beaten track and decide to tackle cover-ups, conflicts and the machinations of the rich and powerful do so in the knowledge that their work could land them in serious trouble. This is why many practise the disliked but necessary art of self-censorship. When putting pen to paper, there is a point that a journalist knows not to cross unless he or she wishes to court unwanted attention. This is why there are stories that go untold, matters that are only referred to obliquely and coverage that tends to err on the side of caution. This being said, while self-censorship, which prevents the reporting of important truths, is abhorrent, the Pakistani media does need to learn better self-governance. This is especially true in the reporting of human interest stories where victims of terrorism, natural disasters or other plights are exploited for ratings. All in all, the media still faces an uphill climb when it comes to free and fair reporting.
Accountability in the army
In a move that is sure to have repercussions on the political scene, at least six high-ranking Pakistan Army officers, including a lieutenant-general and a major-general, have been sacked. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif fired the senior servicemen only days after he had emphasised the need for across-the-board accountability for solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan, in a statement widely seen as meaningful. He had also said that the army would fully support any effort in that direction. There were those who have questioned pronouncements of this sort coming from military quarters, asserting that certain state institutions remain immune from accountability. The latest move appears to give an answer to such critics. Although the information that has been coming in from military sources did not say when the action was taken, nor did it divulge the precise nature of the charges or whether the officers dismissed would face proceedings in a civilian court, the timing of the revelation is way too significant.
There is sure to be further pressure piled on the government of Nawaz Sharif, already mired in the deep controversy touched off by the Panama Papers expose’. While internal accountability is said to be an ongoing process in the army, a key state institution, the fact that the results of that process were made public is unparalleled. Too often in the past, there has been an impression that certain organs of the state were exempt from accountability. This latest move goes some way in refuting that impression. This will also increase pressure on the government to come clean on the Panama Papers fiasco and compel it to order an independent commission to inquire into how individuals, including those belonging to the prime minister’s family, accumulated their wealth and were able to buy assets abroad. The impact of the accountability process in the military can already be seen with the prime minister stating in an address to the nation that a letter to the chief justice will be written in which he will be asked to set up a commission to investigate the accusations levelled in the aftermath of the Panama Leaks. This comes after some foot-dragging on forming the commission and the initial refusal of the government to ask the chief justice to set it up. With the opposition ever so doggedly pursuing the matter, the government might just have been cornered to do the needful.