Daily Times Editorial 13 November 2019

Thaw in Pak-Afghan ties?


After weeks of tension, there are signs of a thaw in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan as Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed met Afghan officials in Kabul to resolve thorny issues. This is a welcome development and it demonstrates Pakistan’s resolve to have friendly relations with Kabul. Both high-profile officials met Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and discussed ways to resolve the matter of harassment of diplomats in both Kabul and Islamabad, dispute over an Afghan market in Peshawar and border firing incidents. These incidents marred the spirit of Pakistan’s good will gesture of opening the border point round-the-clock at Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in September. The measure was meant to facilitate people and trade between the countries. The modern age demands round-the-clock operations in trade and travel sectors. Both countries were to benefit from the move and bilateral trade went up by 55 percent with the border post’s opening.
Everything was going normally when both governments traded barbs over the issue of the Afghan market last month. After a court verdict over the disputed market, the Peshawar police raided it to remove an Afghan flag hoisted there. The Afghan government put up resistance and took the protest to such a diplomatic level that it closed down its consulate in Peshawar. The dispute had nothing to do with the Pakistani government, as the litigants were a private citizen and the Afghan government, and after years of trial the court decided in favour of the Pakistani man in 1998. The present possessor of the market, the Afghan Bank, did not let the litigant implement the verdict, which resulted first in a police raid, and later the diplomatic row. According to reports, both sides have agreed to resolve the market row through a committee.
Then the rows took a bloody turn when both sides exchanged fire two weeks ago. Guns fell silent after leaving several troops and civilians injured on the Pakistani side of the border in Chitral. Remarkably, Pakistani troops showed restraint to the unprovoked firing from the other side. Lastly, diplomats in both countries also became parties. First, the Afghan foreign ministry alleged that its ambassador in Islamabad was being harassed, but Islamabad countered that diplomats of the Pakistan embassy in Kabul were being attacked on roads, forcing the consular section to suspend its services.
Hopefully, the recent visit will normalise the relations as it will benefit both countries. *


Fighting price hike


The most pressing task for the government should be to control prices of essential items and to bring down the overall inflation rate. Instead of going for some practical measures and rapid fire fighting, Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a special cell for integrated planning on demand and supply of essential commodities to control their prices. Such customary measures are likely to take several rounds in file work, bringing little relief to the common man. For such reasons, the government’s core economic team — Adviser on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar and Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Shabbar Zaidi – faced hostile questions at a press conference where they were to explain government policies on the pricing front. For several months, the inflation rate has been in double figures resulting in an unprecedented increase in prices of kitchen items, particularly vegetables and fruits. The prices of tomatoes, sugar, wheat flour, onions and potatoes have gone up manifold. Tomato is being sold at Rs250 to Rs300 per kg in the market. Not many will be relieved by technocrat Shaikh’s marvels like zero borrowing from the State Bank or no currency printing over the past four months, if their trickle-down effect has not reached the grass root.
The economic slowdown and rising inflation charts have their worst impact on salaried, low-middle and poor classes. The impact is visible as every sector is suffering from layoffs, salary delays and wage cuts. To rub salt in their wounds, prices of energy, medicines, and daily household items have gone up at 8.7 per cent year-on-year and 1.1 per cent on a monthly basis. Every sector blames the drop of rupee value for build-up of inflation. The National Price Monitoring Committee recently held the recent increase in gas prices responsible for making inflation a big challenge. The government justifies the price hike by citing ever increasing losses of utility companies. Measures like plugging leakages and controlling theft would have made utility companies profitable but the government took the easiest way of passing on the burden on to consumers. Similarly, the drastic devaluation of the currency at a time when world economies were unstable proved to be disastrous. The government at least can minimise the impact of inflation through strict price monitoring.
In Punjab, the government has decided to benefit from online technology to fight the price hike and has developed a Qeemat App, which will connect the buyer with the wholesale dealer. In the home delivery regime, buyers will get commodities at original prices. Other provinces should also go for such creative solutions. *

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