Thursday, May 5, 2016

Business Recorder Editorial May 5, 2016

PTI's rally postponement Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Imran Khan has announced the postponement of his party's planned rally in Faisalabad on May 8th till May 20th after viewing video footage of the incident of the harassment of women participants in the PTI's Lahore rally on May 1st. Imran Khan was reportedly incensed by the treatment meted out to the PTI's women supporters towards the end of the rally. He has expressed his 'mistrust' of the Punjab police, whom the PTI accuses of conveniently 'disappearing' just before a group of troublemakers pounced on the women, a case of unwanted attention from which the victims only managed to escape with extreme difficulty. The PTI Chairman has set up an investigation committee of the party to ascertain the facts and try to identify the perpetrators. Two FIRs have also been reportedly lodged against unnamed persons. PTI women supporters have protested against the incident in Lahore. While the deplorable incident occurred in the wake of similar harassment of the PTI's women supporters in rallies in Multan and Islamabad, and notwithstanding the PTI's allegation that all three were instances of the ruling PML-N unleashing its 'goons' on the women, there are reports that the real reason for the postponement may be infighting in the party in Faisalabad. That roadblock appears to have been surmounted by jealous local rivals inside the party being accommodated in the May 20 organisational cooking pot. Intriguingly, while there are no words strong enough to condemn the mistreatment and harassment of women who are already discouraged by conservative elements in our society from participating in politics, there seems no other logical explanation for Imran Khan's postponement of the Faisalabad rally by a mere 12 days except internal party exigencies. It cannot be, surely, that Imran's expressed 'mistrust' of the Punjab police will see a miraculous turnaround by May 20. And in any case, the PTI would be well advised in future not to rely too much on the police for protection of their women supporters but to make stewardship and security arrangements themselves to ensure there is no repetition of such grisly happenings. Meanwhile Imran Khan has announced rallies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where he says the police is trustworthy, not the least because the PTI is in power in the province. That nevertheless enjoins the continuing duty on the PTI leadership to protect their women supporters in the public space. Political parties in Pakistan tend to be dynastic and fail therefore to practice inner party democracy. The Jamaat-i-Islami is perhaps one of those rare exceptions that has seen consistent intra-party elections and democratic changes of leadership since its founder Maulana Maudoodi's passing away. If proof of the general run of things in most if not all other parties were needed, one need only glance at the PTI's intra-party elections debacle. Ideally, party leaders and office holders should not seek, and should be excluded from, elective office, whether at the local or national level. However, this may prove to be whistling in the wind since the PTI's and all other parties' leaders' insecurity, ambition and desire for control militates against any such principled distancing of party and elective office. To put the PTI's current agitational drive in perspective, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the storm unleashed on the national political firmament by the Panama leaks. First and foremost, one must resist, and wherever possible oppose, the knee-jerk conspiracy theory that the Panama leaks are directed at Pakistan and its political class' good name and image. That would be absurd and unsustainable flattery of ourselves. Where 11.5 million documents released show the widespread nature of offshore tax havens and obfuscation of the ownership of offshore companies, the names of prominent Pakistani political leaders or their families are a relatively thin slice of this cake. However, notwithstanding subsequent clarifications, statements, interviews and name calling between protagonists on either side of the political divide between the ruling party and the opposition, focus in Pakistan has zeroed in on the incumbent prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The attempted 'technical' defence that the children of the prime minister and not he himself own offshore companies and wealth has failed to cut much ice in a society where family bonds remain strong and children as beneficiaries of wealth that excludes living parents is rare. The moral argument therefore has been hitched to the legal propriety of the head of an elected government being seemingly wedded to apparently legal but morally questionable practices. That having been said, the PTI and the rest of the opposition's purpose has been highlighted in the terms of reference (ToRs) for the commission to be set up to look into the affair. These ToRs are overwhelmingly tilted against the prime minister, thus revealing the opposition's thrust and its antipodal distance from the ToRs framed by the government. While both sides have initially rejected each other's ToRs, there is a glimmer of hope that they are willing to sit down and attempt a consensus. That is the best way to ensure the proposed commission enjoys the confidence of all sides and avoids suspicions of serving either as a shield for the rulers or a weapon in the hands of the opposition. Arriving at the truth in a transparent manner is all the people want and deserve.

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