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August 14, 2016

The lessons we learnt


August 14, 2016

Despite this year having been full of challenges for Pakistan – both in terms of power and pride – there are a number of things we must take back from these instances. Before we begin, hats off to our armed forces for making Operation Zarb-e-Azb a huge success in terms of instilling a sense of security within the country; and more importantly, in terms of striving to eradicate safe havens of terrorist factions across Pakistan.

This is a task which no ordinary forces could conduct, and I salute our forces for playing their part and making us proud. It goes without saying that our serving COAS, too, has made his mark as one of the ‘great leaders’ of this country and despite rumours of his so-called extension, his efforts in stabilising our national security status cannot be overlooked.

Returning to the lessons we can learn since our previous Independence Day, let’s start with the unsettling issue of the Panama leaks. While our people maintaining foreign accounts is no new revelation to us, it is worrying that our leadership is involved in such activities. A leader is only as good as his word, and when his words begin to conflict with the promises made to his people, things get slightly difficult to prove.

Regardless, names have been taken and news has been spread. TORs were attempted to be made, but delays in doing so prevailed. What now? As a starting lesson, our leaders ought to avoid becoming embroiled with such controversies and ensure full transparency in terms of their investments. Until you gain your peoples trust, don’t expect to be trusted.

Second, develop mechanisms which genuinely encourage foreign and other investments into Pakistan. If you are rich, good for you! Maybe your own country can benefit from it if you develop investment schemes and tax incentives. After all, we all pay taxes and expect a certain quality of life in return. Look around. What incentives do we have for paying tax?

The sooner you simplify the system, the sooner you become a responsible democracy. If there is one thing the Chilcot Report has taught us, it’s that skeletons in the closet will come out one day or the other. Let’s pre-empt that from happening by starting afresh and gaining the people’s trust.

Another issue which seems to be shying away from the legal limelight is the extension of the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA). Despite the PPA’s sunset clause kicking in last month, there are talks of the law being extended for another two years. Again, why? There is no rocket science in assessing that the PPA did not achieve its desired mandate. Not only were no concrete convictions made under the law, but the purpose behind its promulgation already seems to have been fulfilled by the Supreme Court’s decision on establishing military courts.

The PPA has failed in its attempt to counter terrorism and to expedite convictions. On the contrary, it created an extra tier of laws, courts and provisions which not only overburdened the existing criminal justice framework, but also cast doubt on the existence of the current Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (ATA).

It is time to part ways with the PPA before more criticism begins. You got a shot, and it failed. Move on and focus on existing legislation. Allocate judges to existing Anti-Terrorism Courts and amend the law to include relevant provisions within the ATA. Constantly amending the current ATA, or proposing new legislation which negates the mandate of the ATA is probably not the best way forward. It is time to streamline, not over commit.

The last few months have seen a strong reaction from civil society members, the media and human rights activists regarding honour killings in Pakistan. Sadly, Pakistan is plagued with this mindset and as time goes by, these killings have become more common than ever before. Since when did extrajudicial killings become practice? Attention needs to be drawn to this issue before we are permanently branded as a state that is negligent in upholding its constitutional safeguards, its human rights obligations under international law and its reputation as a responsible member of the global community.

What about rule of law? How must rule of law prevail across the country so as to ensure that a person thinks twice before committing such an act? I believe this is what needs to be strategised by our leadership. Any more time wasted in merely ‘condemning’ such killings is a sign of weakness at the top.

Pakistan is a signatory to a number of international conventions and treaties. Ranging from human rights, environment, and narcotics to corruption, counterterrorism, law of the sea etc, we can positively express our commitment to international instruments. However, this year has seen a significant increase in criticism against Pakistan for violating its obligations under international law, especially under human rights conventions and its acceptance under the GSP Plus regime by the EU. It is imperative to assess why these criticisms are being raised, and review which internal mechanisms exist to counter these blames.

A starting point can be to ensure that state institutions consciously develop capacity-building initiatives across Pakistan to disseminate awareness regarding international law and obligations. This can be done by fully utilising the recently established Treaty Implementation Cells (TICs) in each province. However, in order for TICs to play a key role, they, themselves, must possess sound understanding of international legal obligations.

In this regard, mass awareness programmes must be planned and spearheaded by the top leadership. The more appetite the state creates for a need to learn international law, the more responsible we are seen as a state. With time, the relevant state institutions and professionals will possess enough knowledge and expertise to genuinely form Pakistan’s foreign policy on several issues. There is a serious dearth of knowledge regarding international law in our country. This mindset needs to be changed, given how everyone, young or old, has started to form an opinion on current affairs.

This is Pakistan’s 69th Independence Day and, despite all odds, we stand resilient in the face of many obstacles. It’s time to learn from the past and invest in the future. I may fall once, twice, or even three times, but my last fall will teach me how to walk.

We have fallen several times, but that has never stopped us from standing back up and facing our problems. It’s time to celebrate this Independence Day by resolving to have positive change; not repeating our failures.

The writer is a lawyer. Email: [email protected]

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