Dawn Editorial 14th October 2023

Unity in pink

EVERY October, the world witnesses a cascade of pink, symbolising a united front against a pervasive adversary: breast cancer. Marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pakistanis can also be seen donning a pink ribbon on their chest, a gesture of solidarity with patients, survivors and their loved ones. Breast cancer has stitched itself into our social fabric. It does not discriminate, casting a wide net and touching the lives of thousands of women, thereby making concerted awareness and education pivotal. According to the Global Cancer Observatory, over 25,000 new cases of breast cancer were reported in 2020 in Pakistan, and the disease claimed the lives of over 13,000 women. Pink Ribbon puts the toll much higher. Pakistan has the highest incidence rate of breast cancer among Asian countries, with one in every nine women at risk. That says a lot about where we stand in our fight against breast cancer.

Breast health discussions here often bear a social stigma, so women feel embarrassed while reporting symptoms. The importance of early detection, facilitated through self-examinations and professional screenings, must be imparted unequivocally across all demographics. A diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence, and with advancements in medical science, outcomes have improved drastically. Besides overcoming hesitation, there remains the simple matter of making screening more accessible, particularly in rural areas, and affordable, since the cost of diagnostic tests is prohibitive for many. There must also be a commitment to increasing psychological and rehabilitative support for patients and their families. The state must prioritise healthcare infrastructure, which not only means investing in specialised facilities, but also in professionals, such as oncologists and radiologists, of which there is a chronic shortage. We should augment our collective efforts in enhancing awareness, facilitating accessible screening and treatment avenues, and supporting those making the arduous journey. It’s not merely about survival statistics but understanding that each number represents a life, a story, and a battle against a formidable opponent.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2023


Missing voters

A RECENT report from Pattan-Coalition 38 — an umbrella group comprising several civil society organisations, labour unions, and intellectuals — paints a very troubling picture. The organisation believes that the authorities have failed to register all eligible voters in 102 of the 134 districts in the country, and that the number of enrolled voters exceeds the total number of persons eligible to vote in 17 of the remaining districts. This could mean that come election time, many citizens who are eligible to cast a vote will discover they cannot because their names do not exist on the ECP’s electoral rolls. In districts where there is over-enrolment, there would also be considerable room for unscrupulous elements to manipulate final vote counts with the aid of the ‘ghost voters’ that allegedly exist in the ECP’s database. If accurate, these findings have significant implications for the principle of universal suffrage and, prima facie, signal a major failure on the part of the ECP and Nadra, both of which are responsible for ensuring that all citizens who qualify to participate in the electoral exercise may do so with minimum hindrance.

The report states that as much as a third of the voting-age population has not been enrolled in several of Balochistan’s districts. Similarly, in 21 of KP’s 35 districts, voter registration is “low or very low” considering the district demographics. Similar trends have been seen in most districts of Punjab and Sindh as well. The quantum of people who could potentially be disenfranchised, therefore, is staggering. On the basis of its calculations, Pattan-Coalition 38 believes that as many as 13m citizens are ‘missing’ from the ECP’s data. The organisation also believes that it is women, the youth and the poor who have been disproportionately undercounted. “A small addition or suppression of registration of vote can lead to a huge impact at the national and provincial level […]”, the study warns. It is hoped that the ECP has taken notice. It has previously delayed elections, in violation of the Constitution, on the excuse that it must ensure that polls are held under conditions that are ‘free and fair’. If the findings presented by Pattan-Coalition 38 are sound, the ECP needs to purge its electoral rolls and enrol all missing voters post haste if it wishes to stay true to its mandate.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2023


Looming massacre

A FRESH holocaust against the Palestinians is in the making as Israel has ordered over a million residents of northern Gaza to evacuate as a ground invasion of the besieged territory by Tel Aviv is imminent. But the grim truth is that Gaza’s bloodied and brutalised population has nowhere to go, as Israel has sealed the strip, while Egypt has also closed its borders.

As the UN has noted, the Israeli evacuation order is “impossible” to carry out, while the UN relief body has said Gaza is “on the brink of collapse”. Perhaps Israel seeks to recreate here the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 that it oversaw, only on a much bigger scale.

While civilian casualties on both sides are condemnable — more than 2,700 people have died after Hamas launched its surprise operation on Oct 7 — Tel Aviv now seeks to do what it has always done without compunction: massacre men, women and children to ‘punish’ Palestinian armed factions. This is a war crime by any definition, yet Israel’s Western friends choose to call it ‘self-defence’.

One positive development emerging from this nightmare scenario is that erstwhile foes within the Muslim world have set aside their differences to raise a voice for the Palestinians.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the crisis over the phone. Mr Raisi stressed “the need to end war crimes against Palestine”, while the crown prince expressed “deep concern” for Gaza’s people.

The prince and Turkish President Recep Erdogan also discussed the hostilities, highlighting the need to get help to civilians. Meanwhile, the OIC and Arab League, as usual, have limited themselves to issuing statements expressing outrage and sympathy. But when the people of Gaza are facing extermination by the Israeli war machine, more than statements of sympathy are required.

Muslim states first need to put up a united front and ensure humanitarian aid reaches the besieged Palestinian population. Furthermore, those Muslim states that are close to the US and Europe, as well as Arab countries that have established ties with Israel, must unequivocally tell their counterparts that this brutal campaign against Palestinian civilians has to end immediately.

There is also a very real threat of the conflict transforming into a regional war. Israel’s Western partners have indicated that they stand by it come what may, and some have sent symbolic military help as Tel Aviv hammers the Palestinians.

On the other hand, Iran, which backs Hamas, as well as Tehran’s other regional allies have said they are prepared to hit back at Tel Aviv and its backers if certain ‘red lines’ are crossed. A perfect storm is brewing. To prevent an even bigger conflagration, Israel’s war machine must be reined in, or else the consequences, globally, will be devastating.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2023

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