EDITORIAL: Staying the course
While pessimists in both India and Pakistan have expressed dissatisfaction over the outcome of the meeting between India and Pakistan’s foreign secretaries, they fail to recognise the tremendous import of reopening diplomatic channels. The foreign secretaries succeeded in agreeing on an agenda for the foreign ministers’ meeting to follow next month. More often than not it is our high expectations or negative perceptions of events that cast doubts on a perfectly healthy course.
In the context of India and Pakistan, there is a need to look at the broader perspective and remind ourselves of ground realities and the history of these relations. The level of mistrust that exists between the two countries, and which received a major boost since Mumbai, cannot be washed away through a single meeting. Conceded that there was no mention of the Composite Dialogue and the two sides identified the ‘doables’, is it not better than remaining stuck in the rut of rigidity? As the Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has repeatedly asserted, sustained talks rather than the nomenclature is important. Even at the height of the Composite Dialogue, the thorny issues remained unresolved although there were indications that both countries were close to a final agreement. Lobbies in favour of the status quo are so well entrenched on both sides, they would not easily let the two countries move forward, unless they pursue their course undaunted. Arguably, militant networks in both India and Pakistan have repeatedly tried to derail the peace process through various terrorist acts and finally succeeded for a time in 2008 in Mumbai. This negates the will of the majority of the people on both sides, which favours peace.
We must not forget that the Composite Dialogue happened despite the initial disappointment at the Agra Summit in 2001, in which President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to reach a formal agreement. The effort continued and, finally, the Composite Dialogue started in 2004. It was an indication of a realisation of the futility of continuing with hostilities, backed by the political will to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. Mumbai was not greater than Kargil. Still the talks met with concrete success, albeit five years down the line. This is why it is called a ‘process’, a series of meetings, not a lone incident.
India’s home minister P Chidambaram is also on a visit to Pakistan for the SAARC Home Ministers’ Conference. Like Pakistan, which released Indian 17 prisoners held in its jails, India too released four Pakistanis held in Indian jails to mark the event. What better way to express bonhomie than to relieve the prisoners of their misery? The home ministers’ meeting is likely to be thornier since the issue of terrorism comes directly under Mr Chidambaram’s ministry and any lingering issues and sentiments post-Mumbai may be expressed there. The Indian complaint of terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil is likely to remain contentious for now. The presence of non-state actors, whose business functions through promoting hatred and intolerance and inflicting untold miseries on millions, is now the bane of the entire South Asia. Unfolding circumstances have made it amply clear that the policy of aiding and abetting them is so futile, rather suicidal, that its planners and executioners will have to abandon it. Therefore, if this process and the positive atmospherics observed in the foreign secretaries’ meeting are sustained, the two countries have the capacity to overcome their mistrust and move towards resolving bigger issues, including Kashmir. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: By-elections and fake degrees
Thursday’s by-election in PP-160 saw PML-N candidate Malik Saiful Muluk Khokhar grab a majority of the votes in a low voter turnout, defeating the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI’s) Malik Zaheer Abbas Khokhar and the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI’s) Malik Jahangir Hussain. The by-election became necessary after the previous PML-N assembly member from this constituency, Rana Mubashar Iqbal, tendered his resignation some months back for having a fake degree.
It is the issue of fake degrees that is ruling the political scene of late as the Supreme Court (SC) has taken stern note and ordered action against violators. Struck down in the 18th Amendment by parliament, this prerequisite for a Bachelor’s degree may not exist any more, but the crime of fraud committed by individuals when it was in place still stands.
Pervez Musharraf may have introduced this measure as another ‘enlightened’ step towards a progressive parliament, but it only served as a restriction of franchise, where the right to compete in elections by anyone was curbed. It hardly served any cause as only a culture of deceit reigned supreme to usher in many members with fake degrees and even more fraudulent character.
It is commendable that the SC has taken a no-nonsense position. Addressing the case of PML-N MPA Rizwan Gill, who doctored the signatures on his fake degree, it has categorically stated that because the law existed and set up a parliament that is still in existence, anyone found elected in defiance of the rule would face consequences. They are liable to face criminal proceedings.
The capacity of the political class to tell lies and indulge in corruption knows no bounds. The SC has directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to take stern action against anyone found guilty of possessing a fake degree. More is needed. A three million rupees fine means nothing to people who spend tens of millions on election campaigns. Even a five year ban is not enough. They need to be barred from ever contesting elections again. Once a fraudulent character has been proved, our frail political system should never have to entertain them again.
No wonder the voters’ turnout for this by-election was sparse. Amidst allegations of rigging — courtesy PTI and JI accusations — the general disillusionment of the masses with the candidates from all political parties has reached such heights that they vote (negatively) with their feet by staying away. *