Dawn Editorial 13 February 2021

Vaccine hesitancy

THE less-than-enthusiastic response of registered front-line health workers in KP, as well as the reported reluctance shown by medical staff in Islamabad, to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is troubling. According to a report, the KP health department chalked out a plan to vaccinate 30,000 health workers, but many were hesitant. Earlier in the week, the department had managed to inoculate only a handful of healthcare workers, prompting the authorities to consider vaccinating hospital staff who have not been registered as well as second-tier medical personnel. True, there have also been administrative drawbacks. But the main reason behind the low numbers is that healthcare workers want to see how the vaccine has affected others, while some are waiting for the Oxford vaccine AstraZeneca to become available in Pakistan. At present, hospital workers in Pakistan are being administered the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Similar concerns have also been witnessed among healthcare workers in other countries, including the US, with reports that nursing home staff in Ohio and California have refused inoculation. Refusal and scepticism by healthcare workers do not bode well for the confidence of the general public. Besides remaining exposed to Covid-19, doctors and other medical staff are unwittingly sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the people who would be hesitant to get the shot refused by those who are supposed to address their health needs.
Given this atmosphere of suspicion, the National Command and Operation Centre must give priority to a national awareness campaign. Over a period of time, willing doctors and public figures should be seen taking the vaccine and dispelling wild conspiracy theories. Here, health experts can explain how vaccines are developed and put to rest fears that their preparation was rushed in any way. Continued and growing refusal from front-line healthcare workers will have a disastrous effect on the programme. The government’s work does not stop at procurement; success of the programme will be demonstrated by the number of those who are vaccinated against the virus.



Caving in

FOR those who wondered whether the influence of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan would dwindle after the demise of its leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the religiously inspired group’s recent deal with the government is a decisive answer.
In a fresh agreement, the government has agreed to put its key demands — which include the expulsion of the French ambassador and the refusal to appoint a Pakistani ambassador to France — before parliament. A document circulating on social media, which shows the contours of this deal, suggests that it was signed days ahead of a Feb 16 deadline set by the TLP when it called off its anti-blasphemy, anti-France protests in November last year after a round of negotiations with ministers.
Even without Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the group has wielded enough clout and popularity through its slogans to make far-fetched demands that are not just entertained by the government but also given credence through an expected parliamentary debate. Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Foreign Office are on record criticising the French president for his comments on multiple occasions. In fact, Mr Khan has even raised the issue of blasphemy and religious sensitivities at international forums. Therefore, the government’s position — one shared by a large number of Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere — is clear. So why is it pandering to a group that has glorified murder and not too long ago levelled heinous allegations against the judiciary and members of the security establishment?
It is one of the country’s biggest misfortunes that groups with similar proclivities have been nurtured, fed and encouraged by successive governments and security officials. Not only have they been allowed a free hand to propagate their campaign, which often justifies murder, they have also been garlanded, handed cheques and indulged when they’ve besieged the capital and threatened the highest office holders. Ironically, Mr Khan and his party appear submissive instead of calling out their threats. But when it comes to the opposition parties, or even government employees protesting in the capital for wages, they employ heavy-handed tactics and wax lyrical about a zero-tolerance policy.
History will remember the role the PTI, and those before it, played in enabling such groups to spread their tentacles. To be prepared to make a major decision such as severing diplomatic ties with a country because of the pressure of an extremist group is absurd. The optics and consequences are terrible. Not only will the world see the government’s weakness in handling this situation, such a move would be an open invitation for anyone in the country with dangerous ideations to flourish. There is a need to send a strong message to all such groups that they cannot blackmail the state. Unless the authorities question the TLP’s demands, the days ahead will be dark and the country steeped further in religious intolerance and bigotry.




WHERE the Biden administration’s stance on the Kashmir dispute is concerned, up till now it has veered between ambiguity and the status quo. While the State Department published a tweet calling the held region “India’s Jammu & Kashmir”, its spokesperson later said Washington’s position on the dispute has not changed. However, the tweet was not corrected. Considering this ambiguous stance, the foreign minister has rightly asked the US not to overlook the ground realities in the held region. “I expect the new Biden administration … to stop ignoring the ground realities in held Kashmir” Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Thursday. Indeed it is a pity that the Biden White House — which has touted respect for human rights as a key pillar of its foreign policy — has so far failed to take up the abysmal human rights situation in India-held Kashmir with New Delhi. Like many previous US administrations, it looks like Joe Biden might reserve opprobrium for geopolitical opponents perceived to be violating human rights, while allies and trading partners will be treated with kid gloves. This is an indefensible position for any government claiming to respect and protect human rights.
The fact is that India has come down hard on Kashmiris, particularly during the Modi regime, reversing the limited autonomy the region had in the Indian constitution before these rights were scrapped in August 2019. Though some of the restrictions have reportedly been lifted — such as provision of 4G mobile internet service — things remain far from normal in the occupied region. Earlier this week, shutdowns were observed to mark the death anniversaries of Kashmiri activists Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat on separate days. The fact is that despite Indian attempts to paint a picture of normalcy in Kashmir, the situation remains tense as the people of the region suffocate under New Delhi’s brutal rule. If the US is sincere in its commitment to human rights, it must raise the Kashmir situation with India. If this is not done, it will be fair to assume that the rights of the Kashmiris have been sacrificed at the altar of expediency. Elsewhere too, for example within the OIC, the plight of the Kashmiris is not being heard, as pointed out by Mr Qureshi. Pakistan must continue its efforts to raise the Kashmir issue at all world forums and let the region’s people know that this country stands with them during these dark times.

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