EDITORIAL: Of photo-ops and floods
Pakistan’s floods have washed away the lives and livelihoods of millions, it has drowned the hopes of the nation and the masses are fighting to reach the surface. In such a great human tragedy, one would think that this mass devastation would be enough to make anyone take pause and strive to help the affected. Those spearheading the effort are expected to be the leaders the masses voted for and the officials they had hopes of. However, it is the private organisations and agencies that are financially directed through foreign donors and bodies that are heading the list of do-gooders. Where are our government officials? Sadly, they have found a golden opportunity for yet another 15 minutes of fame.
Reports have been ‘flooding’ in of provincial and federal ministers from various political parties directing the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to step up relief efforts and relief goods distribution in their constituencies, coinciding with their official visits to their areas and the media’s coverage. Protocol duty of security officials during these visits hampers relief work and distribution. All this results in is a neat little news story and picture in the next day’s paper or television bulletin, upping the ante on political and media mileage. What it does not do is truly help those in dire need. Imagery abounds in the media of famished families fighting tooth and nail for a scrap of food, and our government officials see this as a chance to make some more sordid gains. That is the greatest human tragedy.
The NDMA is no consolation either. It has proved ineffective in mapping out transparent relief efforts, collecting data on the exact number of those affected and damage to infrastructure, crops and livestock and it has proved incompetent in resisting political pressure. All the statistics provided to the media and to the world have come from either the UN or foreign organisations like USAID. Any numbers the NDMA does reveal prove to be inconsistent with more reliable foreign agencies. The NDMA has proved to be a comedy of errors on this deathly stage.
To add to the politicians vying for some political and media favour, we have another dynamic at play in these floods as well: the US and the Taliban, both contending to hit the soft spot of our public. We are grateful to the Americans for immediately sending in a team of 1,000 marines and enough food to feed two million people for 10 days. We can also see the Taliban moving in to take advantage of the people’s disillusionment with their leaders. Both forces are doing all they can to win the hearts and minds of those affected. It is a battle that is playing out on the muddy shores of our failed promises.
In this dark cloud there is the vague glimmer of a silver lining. It has brought two complete opposites together. The Prime Minister and PML-N chief, Nawaz Sharif, after weeks of quibbling, have decided that the disaster is more important than their own political advantage and have agreed to pool resources for relief efforts. It is hoped that this meeting will bring an end to Punjab’s CM Shahbaz Sharif’s constant jabs at the centre for more funds. Another small nugget of good news is the president finally finding some time to visit Sukkur, one of the devastated areas.
All in all, Pakistan is the worst it has ever been. It is hoped that some vestige of good sense will prevail and that our officials, ministers and representatives will finally find their calling and attend to the job they were elected to do in the first place. g
SECOND EDITORIAL: BHC’s dilemma
Controversy and debate over the procedure of the judges’ appointment has continued unabated since the passing of the 18th Amendment and subsequent challenge to it in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This has now taken a new turn, as the term of judges of the Balochistan High Court (BHC) will expire on September 5 leaving no one to preside the over the benches. These judges had been appointed on ad hoc basis after all the judges of BHC, including the chief justice, resigned instead of facing a judicial reference for taking oath under the PCO after the November 3, 2007 emergency imposed by General Musharraf. The judicial commission and parliamentary committee for judges’ appointments, as envisaged by parliament in the 18th Amendment, could not be constituted since the matter is sub judice, despite clear constitutional injunctions against such amendments being challenged in court in Article 239(5) and (6). In the latest hearing of this case, the SC has raised an interesting question with regard to the arithmetic of the Balochistan Assembly. Currently, there is only one opposition member in the assembly, which falls short of the required four members each from treasury and opposition benches for the composition of the parliamentary committee to oversee judges’ appointments in superior courts. The 18th Amendment has failed to provide answers for such a situation.
The courts cannot be left bereft of judges and some practical solution must be found immediately. In this anomalous situation, the government can either consider extending the tenure of the outgoing ad hoc judges till such time that new names for appointment are finalised, or may revert back to the old system of appointments. Perhaps the SC is best placed to advise the government on how to fill the vacuum in the interim, since the case is sub judice and we do not know of the fate of the 18th Amendment yet. *