EDITORIAL: Prompt response needed - Monday, August 23, 2010

Source : www.dailytimes.com

More than 20 million people have been affected in one of the worst floods to have hit Pakistan. It took some time before the international community woke up to the magnitude of the disaster. International aid is now pouring in, though still not as much as is needed. At a time like this, it is pertinent that the people of Pakistan stand by each other and help those who have been affected by the floods. It was in this backdrop that Prime Minister Gilani agreed to PML-N chief Mian Nawaz’s proposal to “set up an independent commission, comprising impartial, non-controversial and principled individuals” to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the flood victims. But it seems that there are some technical problems due to which this commission cannot be set up. Prime Minister Gilani said that the “provinces did not agree to the centralisation of funds so the proposal of Nawaz Sharif regarding the formation of an independent commission is not applicable”. The provinces did not agree to contribute 30 percent of their Annual Development Programmes’ budget to the commission as had been proposed. The prime minister has now announced to form a 10-member council instead of the proposed commission and has asked the provinces to propose some names. This council will be headed by a civil society member.

Now all this is good but the government and all political parties have to realise that the situation demands a prompt response. The proposed statutory body is a good idea but to make it credible, all stakeholders must be taken into confidence and the members of this council should be nominated after a consensus. It should be done on a war-footing given the crisis at hand. The flood victims have not only lost their homes, they have lost their lifesavings. It is the responsibility of the state and the entire nation to come forth and help them restore their lives. Since the number of displaced people is unprecedented, it is hoped that the citizens would open up their houses and hearts for their fellow countrymen in this hour of need. What is reassuring is the spirit of the people of Pakistan. Despite the daunting task at hand, the nation has not lost hope. Every individual is trying to do his or her part in these trying times; every single penny counts! We also have to realise that this crisis will not end after the floods have subsided. More people are expected to die from the ensuing wave of epidemics that have broken out in the aftermath of the floods and in the forthcoming months there is a greater risk to their lives. There are reports that in some places, the prices of medicines have shot up because of their demand. This practice must stop. This is not the time to make profits, this is the time to come forward and help our brethren regardless of their religion, race and creed. In the coming months, there will be a shortage of food items as well. The government must ensure that the hoarder mafia does not exploit the grave situation.

The aid coming in from both the local and the international community must be spent transparently and reach the deserving people. Charges of corruption may have slowed down the pace of aid, but we must rise to the occasion and show the world that this time around, the money will be spent in an honest manner. The proposed council should become functional soon and ensure transparent aid distribution. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Convicting terrorists

In recent years, Pakistan has seen an increase in the number of terrorist attacks on its soil. The terrorists have not only targeted the security forces, politicians and their families but civilians have not been spared either. Sacred places like mosques and shrines have also been hit widely, yet we have not seen a single terrorist being convicted for these gruesome attacks. There are many reasons for this, the foremost being the lacunae in our judicial system.

Pakistan’s security agencies, particularly the police, lack basic investigative skills and with little or no knowledge of forensics, most of the evidence in a terrorist attack is lost or wasted. Even when the police catch the terror suspects, the legal system sets them free. When the prosecution fails to provide enough evidence to indict the terrorists, the courts are left with no choice but to let the terrorists go. The judges do have the power not to grant bail to terror suspects, but we have not seen this judicial discretion being exercised. There are other reasons such as intimidation of lawyers, judges and witnesses by the terrorists’ cohorts during a trial. Though the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2010, when passed by parliament, will address most of these issues, there is an urgent need to give proper forensic training to our law enforcement agencies. We also need state of the art forensic laboratories in Pakistan. The government must start a witness protection programme as well so that no one is able to hurt those who have the guts to come forward and speak out against the terrorists. Lawyers and judges involved in these trials should also be given adequate security. These are some of the things that must be taken care of as soon as possible if we are to be successful in our fight against terrorism.

On another note, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that banned militant outfits “are not allowed to visit flood-hit areas”. We would like to remind Mr Malik that members of the banned outfits are already providing relief in some flood-hit areas and since the government has not been able to reach those areas as yet, how will it stop them from operating there? The government should get to these areas, catch them and put them away for good as soon as possible. The whole fight against terrorism can go to waste if these banned outfits are not stopped from operating on our soil without fear or obstacle.

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