PM’s visit to Quetta
AFTER nearly a week of sitting by the roadside in sub-zero temperatures with the bodies of their loved ones so cruelly murdered on Jan 3, the Shia Hazara protestors in Quetta finally laid them to rest. And, as he had promised, Prime Minister Imran Khan came to condole with them only after the burials took place on Saturday.
The government has, he said, given them written guarantees about their security and promised to address their other demands. The grieving community could do little but receive him with good grace, and hope that this time the state follows through. However, what transpired since the day the bodies of the Hazara coal miners were discovered with their throats slit and when Mr Khan visited Quetta cannot be papered over or dismissed as a ‘misunderstanding’.
First the prime minister displayed an inexplicable reluctance to go to the provincial capital when the mourners said they would not bury their dead until he came to meet them in person. But worse was to come. At an event in Islamabad, Mr Khan, in a shocking display of callousness, told the persecuted community not to “blackmail” him. And he went further still, saying that a “band of crooks”, referring to the opposition leaders, had “also” been blackmailing him for two-and-a-half years. Even as he spoke, the Hazara men, women and children he was addressing were spending the sixth straight day out in the freezing cold amidst the coffins, each bearing a photograph of the young man lying within.
By his thoughtless words, for which he offered no apology, the prime minister rubbed salt into the Hazaras’ wounds. The community has contended with years of sectarian violence, and although the latest attack came after a lull, it was a grisly reminder that despite the state’s claims of having triumphed over militancy, Shias are still being targeted for their faith. The Hazaras, with their distinctive features, are particularly vulnerable.
Some PTI leaders denounced Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari for ‘doing politics’ on the community’s pain by going to condole with them in person. Those with an iota of political sense, not to mention empathy, know that was absolutely the need of the hour. Be that as it may, Mr Khan now has a chance to make good on his words. Armed escorts and better-secured enclaves only address the symptoms of militancy; they are not the cure.
Going by the premier’s own words, behind these attacks is a group of only about 40 individuals, former Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operatives now allied with the militant Islamic State group. The government must order the security forces to hunt down these violent extremists, who can apparently still strike at will in Balochistan, and bring them to trial. As long as they are free, they pose a threat to minorities across the country.
IN a move that reeks of cruelty, Israel has turned down a request by the World Health Organisation and other rights groups to provide the coronavirus vaccine for Palestinian medics. The head of the WHO’s mission to the Palestinians last week told a British paper that the body had requested Israel’s help in providing Covid-19 vaccines for Palestininan health workers, 8,000 of whom have reportedly been infected by the virus. Unfortunately, Israel declined the request citing “shortages” — a decision that will push Palestinians into further turmoil as they grapple with an already overburdened healthcare system. Prior to the WHO plea, Amnesty International, too, had called on Israel to provide the vaccines in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, saying that the Jewish state was obligated to do so under international law. The group said Israel needed to stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and “immediately act to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation”.
That these requests have either been ignored or denied by Israel points to the occupying power’s sheer inhumanity when it comes to Palestinians, as well as an utter lack of respect for their own obligations. Already pressed due to an ongoing blockade in place since 2007, Palestinian healthcare personnel are struggling far more than many others in this pandemic. The blockade includes prohibitions on “dual use materials” that may be used for both civilian and military purposes. However, the denial of items not connected to security has had an enormously negative impact on the health of residents in Gaza. Authorities in Palestine have acknowledged their limited capacity to contain the spread of coronavirus due to a shortage of medical equipment, a scenario which is almost unimaginable given how poorly even the sophisticated healthcare systems in Europe have fared when faced with a high incidence of Covid-19 cases. In this situation, it is deeply disappointing and criminally negligent of Israeli authorities to deny the Palestinians help on the vaccination drive. Their position is especially inhumane given that news reports have named Israel as being the country with the fastest vaccine rollout programme, with over 12pc of their population already vaccinated. As Israel celebrates this milestone, it is clear that it values the lives of Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem far more than the nearly five million Palestinians who live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.