Sunday, September 7, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Sept 8, 2014

Time to move on Imran Khan’s stubbornness in insisting on Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s resignation as the precondition for his giving up the sit-in in Islamabad makes little if any sense. On the one hand, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) negotiating team has time and again been undermined by Imran Khan’s reiterating the resignation demand after they return with some convergence or agreement on the other demands he had begun his campaign with. For example, the demand for setting up a mechanism to audit the elections that Imran Khan says were rigged wholesale (an escalation from his original finger pointing at just four seats) has been conceded by the government in the shape of the commission it has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to set up. But even before the commission comes into existence and gets down to work on the basis of terms of reference to be agreed with consensus amongst all the political parties in parliament, Imran Khan rejects it on the basis that no such commission can work independently in the presence of the incumbent PM. This is an a priori indictment of the PM as well as a vote of no confidence in the superior judiciary, which has acquired a great deal of independence since its restoration in 2009, and whom Imran Khan used to praise to the heavens not so long ago. Imran Khan has been pressed again and again by various quarters to provide the proof of wholesale rigging he alleges. The anomalies and false votes found in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) report to an election tribunal regarding the NA-128 seat, it must be admitted, does raise serious concerns about the conduct of the 2013 elections. However, one seat does not a wholesale plan to rig the elections make. Nevertheless, and despite the sitting PML-N MNA Malik Afzal Khokar’s disputing the report and expressing no confidence in the election tribunal, the rigging/anomalies discovery does strengthen the demand for a thorough audit of as many seats as are disputed or are considered suspect from a credible election point of view. It would appear in the fitness of things therefore for the government to pursue the idea of the election audit/investigation commission under the aegis of the SC. If the PTI does not join the process of setting the terms of reference of the commission, the other 11 parties in parliament should do the same and bind themselves to accepting its findings, even to the extent of calling fresh elections if the audit/investigations show widespread rigging/anomalies. The terms of reference should also be mandated to investigate whether there are any signs of a pattern/plan of wholesale rigging or whether such flaws were local and random. All those responsible for rigging and/or dereliction of duty in conducting transparent and fair polls must be brought to book, no matter how high and mighty they may be. Only such a cleaning up of the Augean stables of our flawed election processes can restore the confidence of the people in the democratic project. Since Imran Khan has given enough reason by now to despair of getting him to see any sense or be reasonable, it may be best to just let him wither on the vine and get on with the job. In a similar vein, the government should stop being distracted by the irascible attitudes of Imran Khan and refocus on the critical tasks at hand. First and foremost, the current catastrophe of heavy late monsoon rains and the first appearance of floods, which may be followed by bigger, heavier deluges, should be the government’s (and all right minded people’s) top priority. The past few years’ floods created many problems, not the least of which is the continuing lack of succour and rehabilitation for millions of flood displaced people. More numbers threaten to be added to then if the dire predictions of the coming floods prove accurate. Second, but by no means less critical, focus must shift back to the struggle against terrorism, particularly Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. We must not be lulled into false complacency by the falling off of terrorist attacks since the operation began. The terrorists, although damaged, are by no means a threat that has receded. They are simply biding their time to resurge once they have regrouped. In these as well as matters of running the country generally, the government should now get on with its responsibilities and simply move on, ignoring if he continues not to be forthcoming, the Don Quixote of D-Chowk.

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