Dawn Editorial 10 October 2019

The Chinese model

THE prime minister’s visit to China has reaffirmed the traditionally close ties between Islamabad and Beijing, with the highest echelons of power from both sides exchanging views on political, economic and military issues.
Of course, China has long been admired by Pakistani leaders for its transformation from a backward, isolated state into a modern economic powerhouse. But though there are many things we in Pakistan can learn from China’s impressive rise since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, there are also lessons on what to avoid, especially if the ruling establishment wants to stick to the confines of the democratic system.
During his Beijing visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been quoted as saying that this country would do well to follow China’s example and put “500 corrupt people in Pakistan in jail”.
The statement seems to be a milder version of what Mr Khan’s cabinet colleague Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda said not too long ago, that 5,000 people should be hanged to secure the future of 220m.
While corruption is indeed a bane that has been eating away at Pakistan’s vitals for decades, the aforementioned comments reveal a disturbing mentality.
Instead of filling the jails with the ‘corrupt’, or worse, hanging people in the streets, the leadership of the country should be talking about creating a viable system that punishes unscrupulous individuals in a transparent manner, and eliminates the scourge at the grass roots.
There are many things in the Chinese model that are worthy of emulation. But frequent executions and purges — the horrors of the Cultural Revolution should not be forgotten — should not be among them.
However, there can be little argument with the fact that over the past seven decades, China has made huge strides in many fields.
Before the communist revolution, barely 15pc to 20pc of the Chinese people were literate; today that figure is over 90pc. Moreover, as per the World Bank, over 850m people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in China.
These are no mean achievements and show a determination on the part of the Chinese leadership and people to change the course of their country’s destiny. This tenacity must be appreciated.
Also, after the fall of the USSR, Beijing has played a role in bringing an element of multipolarity to global politics to prevent the US from becoming a global hegemon.
To top it all, China has stood by Pakistan in difficult times, and CPEC is an example of this time-tested friendship.
For Pakistan, there is much to learn from China — perhaps the primary lesson should be that progress can only come through discipline, economic stability and socioeconomic uplift.
While the more violent episodes of modern Chinese history should not be replicated, the relationship between Islamabad and Beijing can mature and improve in a variety of sectors.



Mental health

IT is a global challenge of mammoth proportions: according to the WHO, one in four individuals suffers from some form of mental illness. It is estimated that almost 800,000 people commit suicide every year, and by 2020, depression might overtake other diseases to become the leading cause of death across the world. Today, many countries are observing World Mental Health Day; this year’s theme aptly focuses on suicide prevention. Data indicates that suicides are prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, and are the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years. Though Pakistan has the second youngest population in the world, the discourse around mental health remains extremely limited. The Pakistan Association of Mental Health estimates that more than 34pc of the population is affected by mental illness, but they remain deprived of adequate treatment, mainly due to the lack of facilities and the societal stigma attached to the subject. Reportedly, some 13,000 people commit suicide every year in Pakistan, and more than 95pc of them suffer from mental disorders.
Though Pakistan is one of the 194 signatories to the WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan, the issue is seldom a subject of national discourse. It was first highlighted in the 1998 National Health Policy when mental health became a component of primary healthcare, but this effort came to naught. Then came the federal Mental Health Ordinance in 2001, and later the mental health acts were passed by Sindh and Punjab in 2013 and 2014 respectively. But these steps have neither altered how this issue continues to be perceived in society, nor have they helped in mainstreaming discussions around mental health and the provision of treatment facilities. Pakistan faces many complex developmental problems and there is ample evidence to suggest that mental health is directly related to developmental indices, eg economic growth and malnutrition. Currently, mental disorders cost the country up to Rs250bn. Pakistanis have braved terrorist attacks, political violence, natural disasters and internal displacement, among other hardships. Addressing these concerns will automatically lighten the burden of mental illness. At the same time, it is imperative that the government engage in a robust campaign to remove societal stigmas attached to the treatment of mental health problems. In fact, such treatment should be a part of overall health-related development in the country.



A task half done

HUNDREDS of schools in KP hit by the earthquake in 2005 have yet to be restored. Lack of funds is a major problem. Some 3,600 schools spread over the badly affected districts of Abbottabad, Mansehra, Shangla, Battagram and Kohistan, were declared too dangerous for holding any activity. Half of these schools have been reconstructed. Work continues on the rest of them at various stages. The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority has been working on rebuilding the schools at a pace which can hardly be described as steady — because of funding challenges. Erra had the task of restoring a mind-boggling 2,900 schools; this is a stark reminder of just how crippling the earthquake was, as it demolished infrastructure located over vast areas of Pakistan and, in particular, Azad Kashmir. Of these, 1,800 schools have been reconstructed whereas work on 1,100 others is still to be accomplished. According to a news report, the provincial government has rehabilitated just 29 out of a total of 760 schools that it was supposed to have restored.
Over all these years, rebuilding costs have increased as new, fancier projects overtake the old ones in a race for funding. Meanwhile, a large number of students and teachers in the affected KP districts continue to be denied proper, civilised space to pursue knowledge with the guarantee of security and dignity. In the absence of their old premises, many of these schools hold classes in rented buildings and inside tents installed in open spaces. A decade and a half is a long time. A whole generation and thousands of more learners have passed through these makeshift schools thrown up by the 2005 quake, overseen by teachers faced with a long, unending emergency. Those who could have played a role in expediting reconstruction have conveyed a negative message — that Pakistanis do not quite give due importance to education. They might want to atone for their lack of initiative by trying to move things faster now.



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