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November 10, 2019

Warts and all

Opinion

November 10, 2019

Pakistan produces handsome leaders but ugly decisions. In my memory, this remark that Google wouldn’t certify was made by Nikita Khrushchev when the dashing Ayub Khan was a prominent player in America’s Cold War team. It could have been in consequence of the 1960 U-2 incident.

In any case, we have another handsome leader as Pakistan’s emblem in the global arena. It would be expected that with Imran Khan at the helm, Pakistan’s stock in the world would rise. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. And the past few days have brought forth a series of headlines that particularly underline our national failures and deficiencies.

So far as our image is concerned, the world may have been a bit intrigued by the ongoing spectacle in Islamabad. There is this rather surreal emergence of Maulana Fazlur Rehman as the main political adversary of Imran Khan. Put the two portraits together and you have a vivid representation of the vagaries of Pakistan’s politics.

Then, there are the hordes of protesters that the Maulana has mobilised, with grim prospects of what may happen. In human terms, this ‘dharna’ in inclement weather is a big story against the flaming perspective of Pakistan’s encounter with religious passions and violent extremism.

However, I have a separate list of stories that I have spotted this week in the context of our standing and status in the eyes of the world. What I am referring to are not revelations in any sense. We are aware of our inadequacies. The point is that we are unable or unwilling to mend our ways and seriously adopt corrective measures.

For instance, there is this reference to Pakistan in the US State Department’s ‘Country Reports on Terrorism’ released on November 1. On Tuesday, our Foreign Office expressed its disappointment on the assertions made in the report and asked for the recognition of Pakistan’s sacrifices in its fight against terrorism.

In the section on Pakistan, the report has alleged that the country’s law-enforcement agencies did not act sufficiently against terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which carry out attacks outside the country, and did not stop the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network from using Pakistani soil.

In addition, the report has accused Pakistan of uneven implementation of its domestic laws against terror financing and sanctions on UN-listed entities and individuals despite being placed on the FATF’s grey list.

Incidentally, on Thursday, the minister responsible for economic affairs division, Hammad Azhar, said that Pakistan may remain on the grey list of the FATF beyond February, facing greater challenges than many other countries because of its risk profile.

On Tuesday, international watchdog Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net (FoTN) report for the year 2019 and declared Pakistan ‘Not Free’ in terms of internet use for the ninth consecutive year, with the country score decreasing from 27 to 26 out of 100 in the current year. The gist of it is that Pakistan is among the worst countries for internet freedom.

Meanwhile, the story of overall media freedom is very familiar and has repeatedly been told. This week, on Tuesday, The Guardian published a detailed report which said: “The censorship of critical voices is not only restricted to media. Last week, an exhibition at the Karachi Biennale by artist Adeela Suleman, called The Killing Fields of Karachi, which addressed the extrajudicial deaths of 444 people….was raided by the authorities and ordered to be shut down”.

On Wednesday, BBC World reported an apparent joint suicide of two women “in one of the poorest areas of the country’s south”. The report said that “it is unclear why the women took their lives. Campaigners say there has been a spate of suicides in the area”. The two women, Nathu Bai and Veeru Bai, married to two brothers, lived near the town of Islamkot in Thar.

I read an opinion piece by Dr Arshad Altaf on the CNN website on Wednesday on why “Pakistan’s latest HIV outbreak was a crisis waiting to happen”. There is also this controversy about The Guardian’s investigation into Pakistan’s polio programme, alleging that there was a re-emergence of the P2 virus in the population. One headline in this newspaper on Wednesday said: “Pakistan has second largest burden of Hepatitis C virus, say experts”.

A report datelined Washington said on Wednesday: “At least 409,000 under-five deaths were recorded in Pakistan in 2018, says the United Nations report on State of the World’s Children for 2019”.

One may find more details about the state of the nation that affect the lives of ordinary citizens. But let me conclude with a reference to the report of the Economist Intelligence Unit. It is possible to detect some silver lining in what it prophesises about Pakistan.

Apparently, it has not taken into account the present crisis born of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ‘dharna’ and the implications of Nawaz Sharif’s serious ailment. Still, it makes a candid observation that has a bearing on demands made by the opposition.

A news item, datelined London and published on Friday, talked about the forecast report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) this week – which spoke about who runs foreign and security policy in the country.

Ah, but more of the same offers little hope when what is already there is so dark and dreary.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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