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Editorial

Illicit drug sale

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In a recent Sindh Assembly proceeding, MPAs seemed irked by the prevalent issue of illicit drug sale under the nose of LEAs. Claims made included connivance by the police as well as reluctance to take timely action. One MPA claimed that 363 drug dens were operating in his constituency alone. But the issue is not endemic as the entire country hosts around 76 million active drug users and addicts, out of which 78% are male while 22% are female, according to UN statistics.

It seems that the sale of drugs has long been an open and accepted secret. This coupled with the increasing rate of drug use among teenagers has created a vicious cycle that grows exponentially. The economic situation in the country — high unemployment and high inflation — has forced even middle-class people to resort to drugs since they are unable to make ends meet. Eventually, many find themselves homeless, fending for themselves out on the streets. Lack of rehab facilities means that they have little hope. While drugs like ice and hashish are made readily available locally, the same are also being illegally exported around the world at a cheap price — with the help of Afghanistan. This entire system makes up the mammoth billion-dollar narcotics trade business that many are willing to dip their fingers in, whether it be at the street level or through black market trade. This can only be dismantled if the involvement of the police is restricted.

Instead of working with drug sellers, provincial police forces must create anti-narcotics units to dismantle drug dens operating across cities. Only when local dealers are caught and punished can authorities attempt to target the top drug lords. This will require careful planning and patience.

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Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2022.

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Editorial

Gill’s arrest

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Political heat is picking up as the nation gears up for national day celebrations. PTI leader Shahbaz Gill has been arrested on charges of sedition and inciting the public against the state. While it is for the court to decide whether Gill’s remarks aired from a private TV channel crossed the red line on the sensitive matter of national security, the arrest could not have come at a more wrong time — when the country so very direly needs political calm, also needed to set things right on the economic front. Moreover, the arrest happens at a time when the PTI has planned a show of strength in Lahore on August 13, after facing administrative problems to hold a rally in the federal capital. Gill, meanwhile, has not been in custody for the first time as he was on surety bail when he travelled back home after his visit to the United States, immediately after the dismissal of the PTI government.

Gill and the PTI will have to do some plain-talking, and make it clear as to what was their narrative as they took to social media on issues touching the sacrosanct of the state institutions. The private TV channel programme under debate is surely in need of some policy appraisal, and has gone wayward. The government, on the other hand, must indulge in some deep introspection too, and come to a considerate opinion whether political discourse and differences could be settled by resourcing to punitive acts of law. The culture of blaming each other for being anti-state and disloyal, as well as heretic, must come to an end, and political diatribe must stand the litmus test of credibility only at the ballot.

It’s time to step back from the brink. Let Gill, and his likes, have undeterred access to law, and the charges be settled on merit. Pakistan is in dire need of political reconciliation with the stated spirit of upholding the Constitution. The instability that has crept in has many fissures, and the prime among them is economic fragility. Soaring cost of living and plummeting employment stare us right in our face, and have been compounded with an irresistible rise in oil and energy prices. To add misery are the monsoon floods which have devastated standing crops. It’s time to collectively address these public issues, and not to indulge in pricking political balloons.

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Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2022.

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Editorial

Whither food security

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Rains are usually a blessing for the agrarian sector, but in our case, it turns into a nuisance. The reason is lack of seasonal customised provisions, coupled with ad-hocism in regulating farm water channels, as well as an outdated harvesting strategy. While Pakistan is home to one of the best canal and riverine systems, its non-regulation and prompt cleaning before monsoon renders havoc to agrarian productivity. This year also the monsoon has played its mischief, and the farmers of Sindh are estimating a loss of more than Rs50 billion. The standing crop of dates, vegetables and cotton has reportedly been washed away by flash floods, and their due supplies has become an enigma. The apt recourse that is adopted is tax relief and provision of soft loans, as the provincial government goes on to declare an emergency. But this provision only results in burdening the national exchequer, and at the same time sees an escalation of prices of essential commodities. The farmers, somehow, manage to audit their losses but the axe falls on consumers who end up paying a heavy price for the produce that is imported to meet demand.

It is ironic that Pakistan despite being an agrarian state does not have a viable agriculture policy. It is unfortunately a grain importing nation and ends up doling out its precious foreign exchange. The same can always be avoided by prudently opting for stringent management and a better planned harvesting decorum. Food imports are a result of a flawed food security policy. This is because we have failed to regulate, modernize and patronize agriculture, and have contended with piecemeal measures. This vulnerability has impacted our self-reliance. Pakistan has to feed 220 million mouths, and adds an average of five million more people to its grain basket annually. It’s high time a food security policy is unveiled and the farmers bucked up with desired essentials.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2022.

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Editorial

Electricity shortfall

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The power crisis continues as the country recently witnessed an electricity shortfall of 6,439 megawatts (MWs), resulting in power outages of up to six hours in urban cities twelve hours in rural areas. There is a huge demand and supply deficit as the country requires around 24,900 MWs of electricity while only producing 18,461 MWs.

Governments seem unnerved and concerted efforts of shifting towards sustainable energy sources remains to be seen. Private power plants generate the most electricity, approximately 7,500 MWs, followed by hydropower sources producing 6,700 MWs. Solar, wind and thermal sources produce only a meagre 1,760 MWs together. If the country is to relieve the burden on the energy sector while saving money at the same time, it needs to stop resorting to private sector power plants and invest heavily in renewable means of producing electricity. Reopening plants and improving their efficiency might be a suitable step in the short-run but will prove costly and unsustainable for the longer period. The country is already reeling with the horrific effects of climate change and burning more fossil fuels will do us no good. The 45% contribution from renewable sources must be increased by procuring heavy investments. The EU has already planned to accelerate the large-scale rollout of solar energy in a bid to decrease reliance on Russian fossil fuel. We musts aim for the same and build a relationship on that front to procure technology and investment.

Officials have failed to implement energy policies, and now and energy crisis and well as an economic crisis looms over the country. Energy lockdowns and frequent load shedding will further make matters worse and causes discord with the masses. The way forward is to experiment with renewable systems that can be used in domestic settings.

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Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2022.

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