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Editorial

Flood-affected children

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Unicef is estimating that about 16 million children have been impacted by the “super floods” that have ravaged Pakistan, and 3.4 million children need immediate, lifesaving assistance because of the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever and malaria, and various stomach and skin diseases. Malnutrition is also a problem for almost every flood victim, as aid delivery remains erratic in several areas. In the case of pregnant women and new mothers, many of them are anemic and malnourished, due to which they are also unable to breastfeed their babies.

Meanwhile, visiting Unicef officials have noted that not enough foreign aid has been forthcoming, warning that over 500 children have already died among the 1,500-plus people killed by the floods, and “many more children will lose their lives” if more assistance is not provided urgently. Unfortunately, the scale of the disaster is such that even though the raw numbers for aid are respectable — the US has offered over $50 million so far, the UK raised its pledge to about $17 million, while Japan pledged $7 million and Canada $3 million — the numbers become minuscule when measured against the scale of the damage. The aid numbers would have to increase manifold to even offer immediate assistance to most victims, let alone help the country recover from the damage. As an example, with over 40 million people now needing assistance, even a billion dollars would come out to under $25 each.

Even providing basic shelter remains a challenge. Many of the victims are still stuck on temporary islands surrounded by floodwater, often sleeping out in the open. Simple tents and mosquito nets would provide a high degree of protection from mosquito-borne diseases and a bit of defence against extreme heat. Experts have also noted that snakes, scorpions and other dangerous animals are present in many of the areas where flood victims have relocated, and many of these threats could also be reduced significantly if the affectees had a clean, enclosed space to sleep and rest in.

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Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2022.

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Editorial

PM in New York

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Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have been pleading with world leaders in New York to help Pakistan recover from some of the worst floods in history. Both men are in the US to attend the UN General Assembly session which began earlier this week. Notable among those that the PM met on the sidelines of the assembly of world leaders was President Joe Biden of the US. The meeting with Biden was not one-on-one, limiting the value of possible discussion topics, but it was helpful to the effect that it did elicit an assurance from the leader of the world’s sole superpower on extending help for the flood-marooned population of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Shehbaz also met with several other leaders of EU countries including French President Emmanuel Macron, who assured that his country would help Pakistan revive its economy and help us recover from the floods. France has also offered to hold an international donors conference in the coming months to help raise funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction in Pakistan. Shehbaz was reportedly very cordial and appreciative of the French leader and his country, which was among the first to provide flood aid, despite the bilateral relationship having taken a downturn during the PTI’s term at the helm. After several protests by religious groups over France’s ‘radical’ secular policies, former prime minister Imran Khan absolutely froze ties by reportedly refusing to take a call from Macron, who wanted to thank him for Pakistan’s assistance in evacuating French and other foreign nationals from Afghanistan after the Taliban took Kabul.

World Bank and IMF leaders also assured Pakistan of additional support, and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates offered his continuing support for polio vaccination and other health initiatives while expanding disaster relief support through the Gates Foundation. This is where one feels Pakistan is fortunate to have the UNGA session — a grand assembly of the who’s who of the world — coming close on the heels of the flood devastation in Pakistan, providing its leaders an opportunity to sensitise the world on the undue brunt of the anti-climate activity of rich nations that the developing countries have had to bear.

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Foreign Minister Bilawal, meanwhile, was on something of a media blitz, making direct appeals to the world to help Pakistan recover from a tragedy of “truly apocalyptic and biblical proportions”. He also lamented that the tough decision-making that led to economic stabilisation and the restoration of the IMF programme had literally been washed away. Bilawal also told reporters about the situation in India and Occupied Kashmir, both of which he said were “increasingly becoming a Hindu-supremacist…at the expense of its Christian and Muslim minorities”. The young foreign minister also noted that India’s illegal withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status under the Indian constitution left Pakistan with “very little space to engage”. However, the country’s top diplomat also acknowledged that there is still a glimmer of hope for relations to improve, as younger Indians and Pakistanis “want to see two neighbours living in peace, side by side”.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2022.

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Editorial

A simmering Iran

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Iran’s revolutionary fervour faces a litmus test of legitimacy. Unrest across the Islamic Republic against alleged excesses by the morality police guards has pitched it in a turmoil. So serious is the situation on ground that Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards have called on the judiciary to prosecute all those indulging in vandalism, and to enforce the writ. The revulsion erupted after a 22-year-old girl, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody on charges of defying the virtue and vice order of wearing proper hijab. It led to a storm on social media, wherein all those who nurse grievances against the revolutionary zeal poured out to protest. Tehran was the theatre of activity, whereas agitations were reported from more than 50 cities and towns, especially those inhabited by the Kurds. Protests intensified for the sixth day on Friday with reports of security forces coming under attack, perhaps for the first time.

This week’s unrest is a grim reminder of 2019 clashes, which had almost brought the ruling dispensation on its knees. The bloodiest clashes had reportedly led to the killing of 1,500 people. Crackdown on social media, arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances are in vogue all these years, and all those who stand up against the government policies or call for reforms are persecuted and prosecuted, accordingly. This modus operandi of the regime has drawn flak from the international community, which is already against it as the Republic has been under constant sanctions for the last four decades. Moreover, the use of excessive force and measures to silence dissent has not gone well with the masses, and counter-revolution sentiments had simmered all along. The political leadership and the clergy, which yields immense influence, must indulge in some deep introspection to evaluate what is wrong, and where, and try to address it in all compassion.

Tehran should revive its domestic policies with a larger heart, and see to it as why there is a hue and cry over fundamental rights. Iranians are an enterprising nation, and have stood fast through the thick and thin of the revolution since 1979, and braved all kinds of hardships. Muzzling the egalitarian-minded people under the presumption that they are anti-state or a threat to the revolution is unwarranted. Time to usher in a new social contract by embracing the heterogeneous strata and opening up the society in larger interests of peace and prosperity.

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Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2022.

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Editorial

Politics of empathy

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The autumn of politics has arrived. A moment of respite was evident as the Islamabad High Court on Thursday deferred contempt proceedings against PTI chairman Imran Khan, as he exhibited in person his willingness to apologise. He was supposed to be indicted on Thursday before a five-member bench of the court for his diatribe against a sessions judge. The fact that Khan realised the gravity of the situation and bowed before the law hints at the bigger picture that the PTI is viewing by shunning unnecessary litigation against its leadership. While this has come at a time when a brawl seems to be round the corner, it is incumbent upon the government and the opposition to step back from speaking through the media, and strike a chord of empathy.

The former prime minister, nonetheless, is on the move, and is galvanising a march on the federal capital. Though he hasn’t spelt out his plan in totality, it is believed that the ensuing showdown will come with strategic consequences for the order of the day. The embattled coalition government is responding in the administrative sphere by buckling up its security gear, and the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad are on the receiving end. Apart from causing public inconvenience due to unnecessary blockades and deputing extraordinary police personnel, it has led to rumour-mongering and utter disgust. The point is that politics in Pakistan is on the edge, and is in need of a political solution rather than dragging its feet at the cost of anarchy and chaos.

The PTI chief is not alone who is contemplating to storm the federal capital. The Kissan (peasants’ community) also rallied in Islamabad in a sizable number on Wednesday to protest against inflation, and the problems that the agrarian community is facing. Last but not least, traders’ associations and lawyers are also mulling to join the drive to air their grievances, basically related to economic downturn and the curbs on fundamental rights introduced by the government. This has almost built a momentum of anti-government drive, and the PTI is at the vanguard to make the difference felt.

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Stakeholders, it seems, too are out for a bargain and efforts are underway to lower the simmering tensions. The PTI’s demand for a fresh general election is in the spotlight, and a proper momentum has been duly built. Unfortunately, what is missing is the right forum to vent the differences and cajole down to a serious working equation. This is where politics in Pakistan is defeated as jingoism and petty considerations supersede national interests. The country is in a serious economic dilemma and the bleeding of the rupee on a daily basis has brought
to naught all kinds of reforms.

Moreover, slumping exports and depleting foreign exchange reserves once again push it to the verge of a financial default. It’s nothing else but the time to avoid brinkmanship from either side of the divide.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2022.

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