DAWN - Editorial; December 14, 2002

Published December 14, 2002

Sindh: all settled?

THE Sindh assembly has finally met — the last of the four provincial assemblies to do so. All the 163 MPAs except one took the oath, 63 days after the general elections. There was more than the usual rumpus over the Legal Framework Ordinance: rival parties raised slogans in the visitors’ gallery, and there was quite a bit of disorder. However, order was restored and the members, including 33 women, took the oath. The big question now is which combination of parties and groups will form the government. The election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker today will perhaps provide an indication of the shape of things to come.

Broadly speaking, the line-up appears to be getting clearer, and barring some upsets at the eleventh hour, Ali Mohammad Mahar of PML(Q), which is part of the Grand National Alliance, is set to form a government in coalition with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The MQM came round to dropping its demand that it should get the top slot. Now, it has settled for the province’s governorship. This is in keeping with the MQM’s traditional stance that one of the two top posts should belong to it. Mr Mahar’s remark at his press conference on Thursday that the question of governorship had still not been sorted out might cause some misgivings. But it appears that he was referring less to the post going to the MQM and more to the choice of a particular person for that office. The fact that the would-be chief minister visited Nine Zero, the Muttahida headquarters, to thank them for their support shows that the deal with the MQM has been clinched.

A GNA-MQM government means that Sindh’s largest party, the PPP with 67 seats, will be sitting on the opposition benches. Already, at least one PPP member has switched over to the “king’s party.” But that still means that the coalition government will have a thin majority. In his speech on Thursday, PPP leader Nisar Khuhro claimed that his party commanded a majority and that it would prove its strength on Saturday. There are reports that the party could attempt to form a government with the help of the MMA. But such an alliance would be unreal and is unlikely to last long, given the wide divergence in the two parties’ policies and outlook on all fundamental issues.

Besides, a government without significant urban representation can hardly be stable. Whatever the MQM’s notions about its own indispensability, the fact is that it does represent a majority of Sindh’s urban population. Any PPP-MMA government would thus be skating on thin ice. On the other hand, the PPP as the largest party could play a constructive role in opposition. Given the MQM’s proclivity to go off at a tangent, it is possible that the Mahar government may not find the going easy. If the new government does well and serves all sections of the people with sincerity, it may go on steadily. However, should the coalition come apart — as has been the case with three coalition governments in Sindh in the past — the PPP could gain in terms of respect and popular votes when and if fresh provincial polls are held.

Greater engagement

THE visit to Pakistan by the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation underlines the need to step up official contacts between the two countries. While there has been a steady flow of high-ranking Afghan visitors to this country in recent months, it is essential that Islamabad moves swiftly to build closer ties with Kabul. After the ouster of the Taliban regime last year, relations between the two neighbours were marked by a certain frostiness. This was not surprising given that Pakistan was among the three countries that had recognized the Taliban government and maintained good relations with it. The interim government led by Hamid Karzai is dominated by members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which was viewed in Islamabad with a degree of suspicion. This feeling was mutual. Many Northern Alliance figures remained hostile to Pakistan because they saw it as a staunch supporter of their arch enemy. However, the events of September 11 and its aftermath have changed everything, with both Islamabad and Kabul finding themselves on the same side in the US-led war on terror. It is time, therefore, to forget the bitterness of the past and move on.

Pakistan is in an ideal position to play a major role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan, building on the goodwill of looking after millions of Afghan refugees. Pakistan has a surfeit of experts and professionals and a skilled workforce that could play a vital role in helping Afghanistan back on the road to progress. By offering to play a major role in the rebuilding process and offering generous humanitarian assistance, we could earn the goodwill of the people of Afghanistan. This shift in emphasis will require a change in the mindset of our policy-makers. Afghanistan must be seen as offering an opportunity to win back Pakistan’s lost goodwill rather than merely as a piece of territory where Islamabad must wield influence for strategic reasons. A stable and friendly Afghanistan is not only in the best interest of Pakistan but also of the entire region.

Savage beyond belief

THE shocking report from Larkana of a girl being stoned to death for daring to dance at a marriage ceremony is shocking. The shameful episode happened earlier this week before dozens of villagers. The girl’s uncle fired at her after seeing her dance at the ceremony. She tried to escape but was followed by several men who then beat her with sticks. The poor girl’s nightmare did not end there: she was then taken to her village where her hands were chopped off and she was then stoned to death. Her body has not been found: it is said that it was either thrown into a canal or a well. The brutality of this terrible act is too much to describe in words.

What is equally revolting is that after the evil deed, the killers allegedly bribed the local SHO to hush up the matter. It was only when an anonymous complaint reached the chairman of the district public safety commission that the police officer in charge of the area suspended the SHO. The barbarism leading to such gruesome acts is a grim reminder of the fact that parts of Pakistan continue to be ruled by primitive customs and emotions. A lethal mix of feudalism, tribalism and ignorance, creates an atmosphere that leads to savage acts. The suspension of the SHO concerned is welcome, but the gruesome incident must be followed through, and the men responsible for it tried for their crime.


A whiff of hope

A whiff of hope

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