Monday, April 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 28, 2015

Politics of CPEC PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari says he will not allow anyone to play politics over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This is easier said than done. People may not be inclined to ‘play’ politics over the CPEC since its importance for the development of the country is not hidden from anyone. However, this should not be taken to mean that people who have reservations or questions about the project should not have the right to voice their opinions. Serious reservations are found amongst the ANP leadership as well as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government led by the PTI regarding the route of the CPEC and the consequential benefits and their allocation. ANP’s Asfandyar Wali has declared that the route of the CPEC is designed to benefit Punjab 70 percent and the other three provinces 30 percent. Neat as this division sounds, it has either to be established or refuted only by the facts. That is entirely the responsibility of the government. Despite reassuring statements from time to time regarding this issue by Minister of Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, the disquiet refuses to go away. In this space we have time and again advised the government to meet these reservations and suspicions head on through the forum of parliament to allay any doubts and get the whole country behind this game-changing project. And while we are on the subject, it is important to reiterate that the critics and dissidents who differ from the officially certified truth should not be castigated in knee-jerk fashion as unpatriotic. On the one hand, as general experience and particularly ours indicates, patriotism is more often than not the last refuge of the scoundrel. We should not get carried away with ‘patriotic’ fervour to the point where we start labelling everyone who happens to disagree with us as ant-national. No national enterprise is without complexity and differing perceptions of those complexities. The objections should be taken and addressed at face value without ascribing unjustified ulterior motives to their authors. Similar remarks apply to sensitive issues like the situation in Balochistan. Whereas the troubled province has a host of issues that need addressing, there is nothing wrong in a democratic system, which we claim to be day and night, in listening to dissenting or critical views. In our history, the record shows that hindsight revealed the dissenters may have had more than a grain of truth on their side. Nobody can claim ultimate wisdom; that is why mature democratic societies lay such importance at the door of free debate. Unfortunately, it seems we have still to imbibe such wisdom. A startling and convoluted tale is unfolding before our eyes for the last few weeks. It all began with an academic discussion planned in LUMS on April 9, which got cancelled because of pressure from the powers-that-be. Since then, the not so shadowy outlines of a concerted campaign on the internet, social media and even mainstream media (electronic) has attempted to paint dissidents who raise the issue of human rights in Balochistan or other concerns about the security situation in the context of the nationalist insurgency going on there for more than a decade, as agents of foreign powers that have no place here. Although the tactic is time worn and disconcertingly familiar, it is doubly disturbing in the context of what well meaning people in this country have regarded as a slow but steady march towards an open, democratic society. Sadly, the events of the last few weeks have brutally exposed the distance between the dream and the reality. Following the encroachment on academic freedom at LUMS, Sabeen Mahmud of T2F in Karachi was assassinated as she left a discussion on human rights in Balochistan. While powerful institutions have promised support to the investigation of who is responsible, the shock waves engendered by the murder of a young woman who clearly had no political agenda or affiliation and was only attempting to create space for open debate and discussion about the arts and intellect has instilled unusual fear amongst the liberal, progressive elements in our society. Unfortunately, some elements in our ‘free’ electronic media have chosen to crawl out of the woodwork to defame, slander and commit libel against individuals they paint in the darkest hues imaginable, thereby not only violating every known journalistic precept, but arguably, in the light of what happened to Sabeen Mahmud, placing such individuals’ life in danger from unknown quarters. On the evidence therefore, it seems such elements translate ‘free’ media to mean free of all constraints, ethics, principles and the law. The spreading irresponsibility of such ‘journalism’ needs to be nipped in the bud before it destroys not only the credibility of present day Pakistani journalism, but takes a whole lot of other positive things down with it.

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