DAWN - Editorial; 23 October, 2004

23 Oct 2004

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A bill or an eyewash?

It is A pity that in spite of the strong protests by human rights activists and the media, the government has gone ahead to move its bill against "honour crime" in parliament with all the lacunae that render it ineffective.

It was hoped that the government would heed the advice of those who are truly concerned about the plight of women in the country. But it chose not to amend the draft which is full of loopholes and shortcomings, making it doubtful if the law when passed will make even a dent in the abominable practice of honour killing. Last year alone, 1,261 persons - mostly women - were murdered in the name of family honour.

It is therefore a positive development that human rights activists have begun to raise their voices against this primitive practice. But the government's response in the shape of this bill is most unsatisfactory.

In the section stating the objects of the bill, honour killing is not even condemned as such. In fact, it speaks only of the concern of human rights organizations and the public. What the government has offered is no more than a sop.

The main flaw in the bill is that it has not unequivocally declared an honour crime to be a non-compoundable offence against the state. In other words, if a woman is murdered in the name of ghairat and the matter is not reported to the police it is quite likely to go by default.

Moreover, the provision in the present law which allows for a compromise under the Qisas and Diyat law has not been struck out. It has supposedly been tightened by providing that the offence of honour killing will not be waived or compounded without the permission of the court.

The moot point is why have the courts been given the freedom to act in their discretion when the government itself concedes in the section spelling out the objects: "the courts also sometimes take [a] lenient view ... and the accused very often get away without any punishment". And yet it has been left to these very courts to decide if a compromise can be made.

With this major flaw, all other provisions in the bill, such as enhancing the punishment, adopting a comprehensive definition of honour crime (to include the causing of physical hurt), and banning the giving of women in marriage for 'badal-i-sulh' are at best an eyewash. If the government hopes to use the newly introduced bill as a flag to wave about its ostensible commitment to the cause of women, no one is likely to be impressed.

To confuse the issues the government has lumped the blasphemy law and the Hudood Ordinances together with the honour killing provision in the same bill. What is needed is a strong bill which leaves no room for honour killing to be condoned in any way.

This should be accompanied at the social level with a strong campaign to create public opinion against honour killings. After all, many of our leaders, even the so-called progressive and liberal ones, have not taken a bold public stand against this criminal practice. At least the government should adopt an unequivocal approach on the issue and try and rally support in the parliament for its passage.

Toying with the KCR

The issue of the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway has now been taken up by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who has ordered the formation of a task force comprising officials of the Pakistan Railways, Karachi city and the Sindh governments for the purpose.

The KCR was suspended in December 1999 and since then there has been a public clamour for its revival to be met with repetitive official promises to do so. President Musharraf has twice ordered the restoration of the urban train service but Pakistan Railways, the Sindh government and Karachi city government have been passing the buck amongst themselves.

In 2001 the Sindh government estimated the system's revival to cost Rs1.5 billion. Then came the city government, which in turn took up the cause and promised the train's revival.

Last but not least, Pakistan Railways, which had washed its hands of the system but would not part with its assets, was prevailed upon by the president to re-enter the fray last August.

Meanwhile, a plethora of feasibility and track-realignment reports were commissioned, some of them at great expense to the exchequer, from foreign technicians, and have been gathering dust in the city government's record rooms. The revival of the KCR has become something of a cliche to be banded about for effect's sake.

In the midst of all this, the absence of the funds needed to get the system back on track has emerged as the main stumbling block in the KCR's revival. Neither the city nor the provincial government has the required budgets.

Now that the PR has been brought around to re-owning the KCR, it is the federal government's responsibility to make the needed money available to it for the purpose. Few cities the size of Karachi anywhere in the world compare with this mega-city's acute transport problems.

The revival of the KCR and its integration with the city's road transport system through a reliable feeder bus service can relieve some of the stress that has been the lot of Karachi commuters for too long.

Crisis in Lebanon

President Emil Lahoud's appointment of Mr Omar Karameh as Lebanon's new prime minister comes at a time when the country is under pressure from the US on its ties with Syria. Like the president himself, Mr Karameh is staunchly pro-Syrian.

Before nominating Mr Karameh as prime minister, President Lahoud held informal polling to seek MPs' approval. But a large number of MPs boycotted the polling. However, Mr Karameh still enjoys the support of 71 of the parliament's 128 members.

The opposition to Mr Karameh's nomination came mostly from MPs who, like the outgoing prime minister Rafik Hariri, disapprove of the president's close ties with Syria. They have also been incensed by the three-year extension in term given to him by parliament without an election.

Mr Harari's resignation, the appointment of Mr Karameh as prime minister, and the extension in the presidential term mean that Lebanon would be able to maintain its traditionally close ties with Syria.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, killed thousands of civilians and retreated after getting bogged down in guerilla war. But it remained in the illegal occupation of a strip of south Lebanon for 22 years. It continues to threaten both Lebanon and Syria.

The presence of the 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon is thus viewed positively by most Lebanese. However, this is anathema to Israel and hence to the US. Last month, at America's bidding, the UN Security Council passed a resolution asking Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

The US also asked Beirut to have a new government. The one proposed by President Lahoud was pro-Syria, thus making Mr Hariri resign. The new prime minister now hopes to form a government of national unity.

Among the problems he faces are inflation because of the rising oil prices, trade union agitation, power shortages and a debt of $33 billion. His appointment in any case is a stop-gap arrangement, for parliamentary elections are due in May next. Mr Karameh thus has just about six months in which to achieve results if he is to win a full term as prime minister.