DAWN Editorials 10th November 2022

Ishrat Jamal

Changing winds?

IS there a lull in the storm raging around Islamabad?

With the stand-off between the PTI and the state going from tense to outright hostile over the past fortnight, few would have expected Imran Khan to budge an inch — especially not with public opinion seemingly in his favour. Yet the former prime minister might be reconsidering some of his positions in his fight against the state.

On Tuesday, Mr Khan told a group of journalists that he does not see a problem in Shehbaz Sharif’s government appointing the next army chief. He even seemed okay with the idea of the appointment being made without any input from his party. “They can appoint whoever they want,” he said — a surprising remark considering that just days ago, he had been railing about “thieves and looters” being given the power to make that decision.

He also avoided sharing his thoughts about the FIR finally filed by the Punjab Police following the failed bid to assassinate him; it doesn’t name any of the three people he had originally nominated. Instead, he said that his lawyers would be providing his stance on the matter.

After the vehemence with which he had attacked the state and government after the incident, this seemed like an unusual retreat.

Meanwhile, things were moving elsewhere too. The prime minister formally wrote to the chief justice to form a judicial commission to probe the attempted assassination of his predecessor. Mr Khan had earlier expressed his openness to Mr Sharif’s offer to involve the Supreme Court, and this may just help cool the increasingly febrile political environment in the country since last Thursday.

As can be expected, this flurry of ‘breakthroughs’ raised eyebrows. Had the needle moved somewhere? Why did the prime minister jet off to London on a ‘private’ trip straight from COP27? Did he need to deliver a message to his elder brother?

There have been murmurs that army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa may be asked to stay. Mr Khan appeared to give credence to these rumours when he told journalists in the aforementioned meeting that Gen Bajwa’s extension was a “billion-dollar question”.

An extension at this point could still be sellable to the public as a necessity so that a new government, with its fresh mandate, may decide Gen Bajwa’s successor. If the extension does materialise, however, it would be an unfortunate step back.

After so much ink has been spilt over the matter, our leaders ought to have realised that military appointments should remain independent of national politics. For either domain to influence the affairs of the other is a recipe for disaster.

Mr Sharif must put an end to the uncertainty by appointing Gen Bajwa’s successor immediately. Delaying the appointment to the eleventh hour is creating complications that Pakistan can ill afford at this point.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2022

Global responsibility

PRIME MINISTER Shehbaz Sharif has rightly reiterated his stand that climate change is a joint global responsibility and that the international community must take collective action to address it and cover the financing needs of nations on the front lines of climate catastrophes. Speaking at the COP27 summit in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh, he sought to emphasise Pakistan’s stance that the country is seeking ‘climate justice’ in the wake of enormous economic losses of $30bn caused by the devastating floods induced by climate change, and not debt or aid. “We’ve to fight and rebuild a resilient and adaptive infrastructure which can only be done through additional funding, not loans … but the financing gap is widening by the day,” he said in his National Statement as he called for prioritising the Global Goal on Adaptation in terms of financing and timelines to support countries forced to bear the heavy impact of climate change despite contributing negligibly to global warming. He also suggested that loss and damage needed to be part of the core agenda of COP27 to meet the humanitarian needs of those trapped in the crisis of public financing fuelled by debt. Lastly, he called for clearly defining climate finance as a new, additional and sustained resource, with transparent mechanisms, to meet the needs of the vulnerable countries with the required speed and scale.

The premier has been speaking of climate justice for the vulnerable states at every international forum he has been to ever since the unprecedented deluge struck a third of the country, killing hundreds and displacing more than 30m people, in addition to causing large-scale damage to crops and infrastructure. But is the world listening to him? World leaders may mostly agree with his words. Some have promised additional funding to help the flood-affected people and the economy of Pakistan. Yet, UN calls for cash to save the affected people, including children, remain underfunded. The prime minister was correct in telling COP27 participants that the world had failed to agree on the basics, despite talking about these issues for years. Pledges made at the Copenhagen COP15 in 2009 for mobilising $100bn annually by 2020 have still not been realised, for example. The climate conference may help carve a common path towards achieving the objectives of the climate change convention and the Paris Agreement. But the exercise will not yield results unless the rich polluters realise the urgent need to save the planet and start playing their part.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2022

Diamer school arson

THE obscurantists’ war on education continues, as a girls’ school in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Diamer district was torched early on Tuesday. Local officials have held “terrorists” responsible for this reprehensible act and have vowed to rebuild the school along with providing security to educational institutions. This is not the first time violent elements have torched schools in this highly conservative part of GB; there have been several similar attacks over the past few years. However, what is welcome, apart from the government’s resolve to resist the extremists’ desire to wipe out education, particularly for girls, is the fact that local elders have condemned the act of arson and have called upon the authorities to nab the culprits. Moreover, it is also heartening that schoolgirls in neighbouring Astore district staged a brave march to condemn the torching of the school.

The Diamer area is no stranger to extremist activity. Only last month, armed militants ambushed a GB minister, demanding that their fellow fighters involved in acts of terrorism be freed. There was also some noise by right-wing forces against a women-only sports gala that was organised in the region recently. The fact is that Diamer, along with its neighbouring district of Upper Kohistan in KP, features some of the country’s lowest literacy rates. The numbers for women’s literacy are particularly abysmal in both areas. Therefore, the challenge confronting the state is twofold: stop the penetration of armed terrorists in this remote region, and prevent extremists from waging their blighted struggle against literacy, particularly girls’ education. One part of this strategy will encompass the security angle, to ensure that armed groups don’t have free rein in the area. The other concerns community engagement, to guarantee that locals continue to educate their children, particularly their girls. The ground reality — that this is a conservative region — must be kept in mind, and community engagement is essential to ensure there are no violent disruptions to educational activities in this remote and underdeveloped area.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2022