Dawn Editorial 10 August 2019

Pak-India trains stopped

IN a highly questionable move, the Samjhauta Express and Thar Express train services to India have been abruptly halted by the railways ministry after the Modi administration scrapped the constitutional article that had allowed autonomy to the people of India-held Kashmir. At the same time, the information ministry has decided to ban all cultural links with India, including the screening of films from across the border. Why punish the people? Pakistan’s move to downgrade diplomatic ties might make sense at such a time, but the Indian government will not be hurt by the clamp-down on cultural activities and exchanges, and train services. In fact, it will only embolden the administration in Delhi to increase its anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The ban on travel — announced by an impetuous railways minister instead of the foreign ministry — is particularly distressing, when we consider the divided families on both sides of the border, and the many Sikh pilgrims who want to visit holy sites on this side of the fence. It is a sure way of playing into the hands of the Modi government that has left no stone unturned to defame this country. As photographs of teary-eyed passengers boarding the last Samjhauta Express train in Lahore are circulated, one cannot help but feel sorry for the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately, the railways minister has said the ban will stay as long as he remains in charge of the ministry.
The Thar Express had made it quicker and more convenient for travellers from Sindh to visit the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, instead of travelling all the way from Punjab, to visit their families and religious sites at a fraction of the cost it takes by air. Now they don’t have that option. The Samjhauta Express had been suspended before, notably after the 2007 bombings. But train services were restored later. For the sake of the people, one hopes that the current suspensions will be of short duration.


Maryam’s arrest

MARYAM Nawaz’s arrest by NAB on Thursday has further raised political temperatures in the country.
NAB contends that this is a routine matter, a point of view that has been vociferously endorsed by a battery of PTI government spokespersons.
The official side relies on the principle of ‘equality before the law’ as it asserts that the latest catch includes one of Ms Nawaz’s cousins.
The accountability bureau has a simple explanation: that the arrest took place after the PML-N vice president was unable to respond in time to certain questions sent to her in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case.
The refrain has been repeated in the media just as comments abound regarding a resourceful family of the past supposedly finding its nemesis after years of avoiding the inevitable.
Going by the number of voices willing to lend themselves to this point of view, the chorus has resonated with many Pakistanis.
But then, there are other contexts not entirely alien to this land of long-running feuds that will have to be taken into account for a fair assessment of the rather surprising arrest.
Ms Nawaz’s arrest was unexpected not necessarily because of any embargo on detaining women in the country.
Contrary to what an agitated Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari would have us believe, it is quite normal for NAB and other authorities to pick up women ‘suspects’ without discrimination.
We all know that.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari could well have adopted his angry posture since he understands the potential of the arrest as a stimulus that could add impetus to the opposition’s protest against the government.
The PPP leader could have been additionally motivated to act in an unparliamentary way because of the recent allegation that his party let down the PML-N during the no-confidence move against the Senate chairman.
However, what is clearer is the fact that Ms Nawaz was doing very well in her role as a builder of public momentum against the Imran Khan government with her rallies in various parts of Punjab.
Ms Nawaz was doing a good job as a crowd-puller, although there was reluctance this time — for a variety of reasons — on the part of the media to report on a Sharif feat, as compared to instances in the past.
She was able to display to a large extent that the PML-N still had deep-rooted support among the masses, thus highlighting the breach that exists between the pro-PTI, ‘anti-corruption’ Pakistanis and those who are still willing to support the new or old faces with which the Sharifs are associated.
It is an intriguing fight that could persist for a long time.
As per Pakistani tradition, Ms Nawaz’s detention in a corruption probe might not lead to an en masse rejection of the PML-N and its politics.
Instead, it could fuel allegations of selective accountability.


Rejected degrees

THE response of the Ministry of National Health Services to reports of the recent sackings of several hundred doctors with MS/MD degrees working in the Gulf countries lacks the seriousness, urgency and force with which Islamabad should have pursued the issue. Merely taking ‘serious note’ of the termination of contracts of Pakistani doctors working in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states will neither help the affected doctors nor redeem the respect of the postgraduate medical training programmes offered by various universities in the country. The matter requires the ministry to mobilise all available resources and use diplomatic channels via the Foreign Office to reach out to the health authorities of these countries and put to rest their concerns over the quality of university postgraduate training programmes, instead of wasting time on the ‘verification of the problem’. Also, it should have set up a committee of reputable medical practitioners to look into the concerns of the foreign employers of Pakistani doctors and suggest changes in the MS/MD programme — if required — to meet international standards of postgraduate medical training. Such a committee could also have been given the task of probing the allegations of affected doctors against the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan for having presented “distorted facts about Pakistan’s university [postgraduate medical training] programme to maintain the monopoly of [doctors with] FCPS qualifications” offered by it. If these accusations are found to be true, the CPSP administration should be taken to task for damaging the country’s reputation at the international level.
Not only has this wholesale rejection of the postgraduate MS/MD degree programme in Pakistan rendered doctors working in the Gulf jobless (many have returned or are facing the threat of deportation), it is also a national embarrassment. Meanwhile, the concerns raised over the quality of medical education and training imparted by our institutions must be addressed. While many of these may be unfounded, the fact remains that the standards of medical education in the country have slipped along with the quality of healthcare facilities available to the people. Issuing an official statement in defence of our medical education or giving verbal assurances to those who employ Pakistani doctors in other countries will not be enough to restore confidence in the major medical degrees. The government will have to take serious measures to revamp the domestic medical education infrastructure, including training and research programmes, to bring them at par with globally recognised standards.

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