IF there were ever a time for politics to take a back seat for the greater public good, it is now. The Covid-19 situation in Pakistan is getting more worrisome by the day, yet huge gatherings — particularly those staged by the opposition PDM — continue in full force. The stark, terrifying picture of the pandemic and its effects on the country should not be lost on anyone; according to the NCOC’s figures yesterday, Punjab had the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Multan, which was the venue of one mammoth public gathering just weeks ago, had the highest number of patients on ventilators. Some 450 people lost their lives to Covid-19 over the past week — a grim statistic that should send chills down the spines of our collective political leadership. Astonishingly, even the increasing number of hospitalisations, distressing social media debate and the overall gloom engendered by Covid-19 have failed to register as a national crisis for our leaders.
The PDM must rethink its public rallies, starting with the upcoming show in Lahore on Sunday. If the attendance at the alliance’s recent rallies is anything to go by, the Dec 13 gathering, too, will see a large crowd. That the opposition parties are calling on people to cram themselves into a public space during such a precarious time is supremely irresponsible. Beckoning thousands of frustrated citizens — who are already crushed by unemployment, rising inflation, and power and gas cuts — to protest as the threat of Covid-19 literally hangs heavy in the air is endangering lives. This behaviour is reckless and begs contemplation. Surely, the opposition can postpone these rallies till such time that Covid-19 cases fall across the country, and especially in the areas where these large public gatherings are being staged. If it fails to do so, the collective opposition will be guilty of doing a colossal disservice to the public as well as hurting the morale of healthcare workers.
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and here the ruling PTI is also to blame. Its vicious harassment of the opposition has pushed the latter against the wall — possibly to a point of no return. Bringing the two warring sides to the table for any productive discussion has become impossible. Unlike under previous dispensations, where rival parties were often prepared to set aside their differences over key national issues, this government is unable to move beyond its corruption rhetoric. As a result, the opposition parties have taken the extreme decision to protest even though there is a clear threat to lives. The prime minister repeatedly mocks the opposition and says he is interested in engaging them in dialogue but will begin by talking about their alleged corruption. Nearly halfway through the PTI’s term, this mantra must give way to a more sensible approach.
THE controversy over the higher spot purchase price of LNG cargoes being imported by the government for covering the gas shortfall during the winter months this year is intensifying with every new order. The latest tender placed for the procurement of three shiploads of gas for delivery in the latter half of January by Pakistan LNG Ltd, for example, has attracted the highest-ever minimum bid rate. No supplier had bid for the same amount of LNG the government wanted delivered between Jan 8 and Jan 18. It is for the first time in the last five years that a tender could not attract any response from the suppliers, raising concerns of greater shortages during the peak winter months. The spot rate of 17.32pc of Brent quoted for the first two shipments to be delivered between Jan 20 and Jan 27 is far more expensive than the one offered during the summer for winter supplies and is significantly higher than 13.5pc for the long-term contract between Pakistan and Qatar.
Critics of the government blame the inordinate delays in the placement of orders for the higher spot prices that Pakistan is being forced to pay for the winter supplies. Moreover, the rising global demand for LNG in recent weeks has also pushed up its spot price. Many contend that the government could have saved billions on spot LNG purchases had it bought future contracts in summer when the prices for winter delivery were at their lowest. The special adviser to the prime minister on petroleum had himself, unwittingly though, admitted as much. The PLL, however, claims that 11 cargoes have been secured for the next month and arrangements are being made for two more shiploads. It also blamed a ‘media campaign’ for having harmed the latest tender by causing some suppliers to stay away. Additionally, it defended expensive spot purchases saying “the wide range of prices offered for the same delivery date clearly shows that the time between the bid opening and the delivery date is not the price determinant; the main driver is global demand and supply”. In order to end this blame game, the government should conduct an impartial inquiry into the matter. But the longer-term and sustainable solution to the issue lies in breaking the government’s monopoly over LNG trade and market through involvement of the private sector with the capacity and wherewithal to take timely import decisions.
THE slow but steady wave of normalisation between Arab states and Israel rolls on, with Morocco being the fourth nation in recent months to establish ties with the Jewish state. The development was announced on Thursday via Twitter by outgoing US President Donald Trump, who has made cobbling together a ‘coalition of the willing’ of Arabs and Israel a central plank of his foreign policy.
Mr Trump has labelled it a “massive breakthrough”, while Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel chimed in by terming the scheme “another great light for peace”. In return for establishing ties with Tel Aviv, Rabat has won American recognition for Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.
Where Arab politics is concerned, Morocco is an outlier, so it is difficult to be convinced by the American and Israeli exuberance over the latest deal. However, Arab regimes know well that the road to Washington goes through Tel Aviv, which explains their eagerness to ditch their Palestinian ‘brothers’ and Arab consensus over the Palestine question, and embrace Israel. Moreover, the UAE and then Bahrain — which were the first Arab states in decades to recognise Israel — have found a kindred spirit in Tel Aviv that also seeks to ‘contain’ Iran.
More Arab and Muslim states will expectedly follow, paying lip service to the just cause of Palestine while booking the next flight to Tel Aviv. Yet the elephant in the room is Saudi Arabia. There has been fervent media speculation over covert Saudi-Israeli meetings; one report even said Mr Netanyahu flew to northern Saudi Arabia for clandestine parleys with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have officially denied this as it is a sensitive matter, with the kingdom hosting Islam’s holiest cities. In fact, senior Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal was highly critical of Israel at a recent summit in Bahrain, with the Israeli foreign minister attending remotely. This shows that even within Saudi Arabia there is resistance to embracing Israel fully, without an equitable solution to the Palestine question.