Dawn Editorial 14 January 2022


Staff member
Travesty of Gitmo

TWENTY years after the opening of one of the most controversial prisons in the world, Guantanamo Bay remains an affront to American ideals of democracy and human rights. This week, five more detainees were approved for release. The three men from Yemen, one from Somalia and the fifth from Kenya have collectively spent 85 years in the prison without so much as being charged. After all this time, following a review, US authorities deem these men no longer pose a threat to their country. It is a sorry reflection of the justice system that of the 39 detainees at Gitmo, only 10 are ready to stand trial, and even their cases are still at the preliminary proceedings stage. Nine detainees are in limbo, as they have neither been charged nor ordered to be released. Some of them have serious mental health problems, which further complicates their cases as it makes it hard to prepare a case for release or arrange a post-prison life for them.

Though other prisoners’ release orders have been issued, including that of Pakistani inmate Saifullah Paracha, the release itself is often delayed as the US administration engages with countries to determine whether they will accept them. In some cases, such as that of the inmates from Yemen and Somalia, their homelands are so torn by war that repatriating them is not possible. As a result, there are fears they will continue to linger in this prison, notorious as a black hole where rights, dignity and justice cease to exist. The prison should have shut down years ago, when president Obama pledged it would, with the cases transferred to civil courts. Instead it has outlasted the war in Afghanistan, and remains a dark reminder of the US’ excesses, a ‘justification’ for torture and a prolonged misery for inmates who have the right to fair trial. The US has a lot to answer for, especially why, despite two presidents committing to shutting down the prison, it still exists.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022​

PDM’s new tack

THE PDM leadership has stated that in its next meeting slated for later in the month, it intends to deliberate on bringing a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan. Speaking to the media, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif said they had agreed to seriously consider this move and make a decision soon.

This is a departure from PDM’s earlier position which was wedded to resigning from the assemblies in a bid to bring the PTI government down. However, it appears the PDM has also now come around to the PPP’s view that an in-house change is the best option against the government. This option is premised on various factors, one of which is the opposition’s assessment that the establishment has adopted a more hands-off approach towards the government.

Maulana Fazl has already said this when he told journalists recently that the results of the KP local bodies elections — in which JUI-F did surprisingly well — were evidence that when the establishment becomes neutral, the PTI suffers a setback at the polls. The latest PDM statement is also based on the government’s weakening position and growing unease within its ranks and also among the allies about the economic and governance ailments that seem to be intensifying with each passing day. The opposition leaders have been heard claiming that many treasury members are in secret contact with them.

It is still premature to say whether such a move will indeed materialise, and whether it would succeed. It is fairly obvious that the opposition is galvanising its efforts against the government both within parliament and on the streets. The PPP has announced a long march on Islamabad at the end of February while the PDM has scheduled its event on March 23. There is increasing collaboration between Mr Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto and efforts may be underway to coordinate the announced marches as one event.

All these activities point towards a well-thought-out campaign against the government at a time when it is seen as weakening progressively due to multiple political and legal blows. The government is reacting to these developments by cranking up the pressure on the opposition.

The latest move by the government to initiate legal action against Mr Sharif for not fulfilling his commitment to the court of ensuring Nawaz Sharif’s return may not lead to any immediate action but it signifies that the government wants to take the battle to the opposition to divert pressure on it from other sources. This could be a risky strategy because it does not address the root cause of the problems afflicting the government. With the next few weeks crucial in determining how the government will fare, it might be useful for the prime minister to seek advice from experienced politicians in his party instead of resorting to knee-jerk reactions.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022​

Ongoing urea crisis

OFFICIAL claims notwithstanding, growers in many parts of the country continue to face problems in procuring urea or pay a premium on their purchase as conceded by the Fertiliser Review Committee. That the crisis continues to linger despite a significant increase in daily supplies from 342,000 bags to 440,000 bags confirms that the real causes — smuggling and hoarding — responsible for the shortage are yet to be tackled effectively. The prime minister’s orders for stern action against hoarders and profiteers as well as smugglers indicate that the crisis is far from over. The committee has expressed confidence that the enhanced supplies will boost the fertiliser’s retail availability, stabilising its market in the coming days, but the growers remain sceptical as is reflected by their panic purchases at a higher price to meet their needs over the next several weeks. Despite recent government actions to improve urea’s availability by providing uninterrupted gas supplies to the manufacturers and importing 100,000 tonnes of chemical from China, the crunch could extend beyond the wheat season.

Multiple factors — additional demand on better farm incomes, more rains, increase in the area under cultivation as well as hybrid varieties, smuggling, hoarding, etc — are blamed by the government and the industry for the domestic shortages and spiralling prices of one of the most essential farm inputs. This was despite record local production of 6.34m tonne fertiliser in 2021 against the annual average of around 6m tonne for the previous three years. What went wrong? In spite of signs of emerging shortages and warnings sounded by the wheat farmers and the urea industry as early as September, the government did not act to prevent an avoidable crisis. Even reports of nearly 343,000 tonne urea ‘vanishing’ from the market — presumed to have been smuggled out of the country — failed to budge the authorities. No effective measure was taken to stop smuggling to Afghanistan despite evidence. When raids began to be carried out on urea dealers’ premises to release ‘hoarded’ stocks, the crunch worsened as it spread panic in the market. In short, the urea crisis — similar to the sugar and wheat flour troubles in 2019 — is the outcome of the authorities’ inability to correctly forecast the demand-supply situation and take timely action. The urea crunch will ease in the next few weeks. But there are ample chances of it resurfacing if supply chain reforms are not implemented and governance not improved.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022​