Dawn Editorial 15 August 2019

A world in denial

PAKISTAN’S Independence Day was a particularly appropriate occasion to express solidarity with the people of India-held Kashmir who have been so cruelly deprived of their freedom in a manner that exceeds even decades of seeing their homeland become a police state.
Anger continues to roil Pakistan over India’s revocation of the territory’s special status. It was reflected in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech yesterday to the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly in which he warned India to desist from any military adventure against Pakistan.
“This is my message to you: you take action and every brick will be countered with a stone” — meaning, any action will meet with a stronger response. He described Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unilateral decision as a “strategic blunder” that had ended up internationalising the Kashmir issue. And in remarks that echoed those he had made a day before, he compared the situation in IHK with the rise of Nazi Germany whose extremist ideology was the inspiration behind the Hindutva creed. The world, he said, must be made aware of the dangers inherent in Hindu extremism.
The question is: is the world prepared to listen? No doubt Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir is just, principled and anchored in international law.
Unfortunately however, realpolitik speaks a different language, where the lure of the market far outweighs other considerations, including historical and fraternal ties.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in an unusually forthright press conference in Muzaffarabad on Tuesday, pointed out as much when he said: “Though we happen to talk about the ummah and Islam, the guardians of ummah have made investments and have interests in India which is a market of a billion people.”
Mr Qureshi also appeared to have little hope of a proactive response from the international community regarding IHK, contending that any of the UN Security Council’s permanent members could create hurdles for Pakistan when it presents its case before the global body. The world, he correctly observed, had shown little inclination to address Kashmir’s travails through the years and was unlikely to do so now. Mr Qureshi’s words clearly spring from a sense of disillusionment over the largely apathetic response across the globe — but especially from powerful Muslim countries — to India’s illegal actions.
However, notwithstanding India’s economic clout, there is another equally pragmatic — though far more urgent — aspect of the situation that the international community ignores at its peril. The indigenous Kashmiri movement for self-determination has grown more desperate in the face of increasing brutality by the state. Radical elements take root in precisely such a climate of despair, the result of a thousand indignities piled upon each other, with repercussions for the region and beyond. Transnational extremist forces may have to some extent been weakened, but they retain a shadowy presence, waiting for an opportunity to establish their relevance again. The world must act now to allay the injustice against the Kashmiri people.


Monsoon devastation

DESPITE repeated warnings of their arrival and expected intensity, the monsoon rains that swept through Karachi and other parts of Sindh over the weekend left a wave of destruction in its path. At least 27 people died due to rain-related accidents in the two days of relentless rainfall, the vast majority of them in Karachi. Most deaths were caused by electrocution or homes collapsing on residents, while one truck driver died when his vehicle fell into the Malir River. Just a little over a week earlier, the first spell of the monsoon led to almost 20 deaths in Sindh — again, largely due to electrocution from poorly maintained electricity poles and fallen wires. The Met department has now warned of even more rain this week. Are the governing authorities and various municipal boards prepared?
Following the first bout of rain, the PTI government grandiosely launched a ‘Clean Karachi’ drive, taking on the task of de-silting the city’s drainage sites before the Eid holidays. However, they too quickly learnt of the difficulties in cleaning this sprawling, largely unplanned urban jungle. The flooding inside homes and streets witnessed right before and during Eid was blamed on solid waste dumping inside the over 40 documented drainage sites of Karachi, while informal settlements built on top of them and along waterways were blamed for blocking the natural flow of the water into the rivers. Nearly half of Karachi’s population lives in these katchi abadis; they simply cannot be uprooted after living there for decades and having no other land or property to speak of. It would be inhumane. The failure of anti-encroachment drives has also pointed to that. This was also more recently acknowledged by Sindh’s chief minister, who said that demolishing the colonies built on waterways is not the solution and will only create more problems in the future. Instead, he suggested conducting a hydrographic survey and building new drains. He might be right, but creating a new network of drains could take years to materialise. For now, especially in light of the prediction of more rain, the provincial government must fix the existing problems. Cleaning drainage systems is not a one-off job; it is something that has to be done on a regular basis. All stakeholders with allegiances to different political parties must show more maturity than they have so far displayed, and work cohesively for the sake of the city.


Ranjit Singh’s statue

IT was a shocking act. Two men, one faking a walking disability and the other pretending to help his companion, approached the Ranjit Singh statue inside the Lahore Fort last Saturday. Once there, they attacked their target with rods and sticks that they were armed with. Expert estimates of the damage to the statue are awaited. By the looks of it, considerable harm was done to the statue by the apparent zealots. They raised slogans as they went about their destructive job, hailing themselves as some kind of reincarnates of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi, known in subcontinental history for the sacking of temples and demolishing of idols. A gift from a UK-based organisation, the statue was installed at an area close to where Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the famous Sikh ruler of Punjab in the 19th century, resided. It could be readily assumed that the authorities who had okayed its display had been encouraged by some new positive insight into tolerance levels in Lahore — or perhaps by notions that while all minorities and chapters on non-Muslim rule are treated with equal hostility here, the relics and memories of some are still to be cherished and worth displaying to the public.
In any case, when it was put up for public viewing in June this year, the Ranjit Singh memento doubled the number of statues publicly displayed in Lahore. The other man whose statue has been allowed to stand in the city was Alfred Woolner, the founder of Government College Lahore. The city was cleansed of all other statues long ago — which speaks volumes for how narrow our understanding and interpretation of history has been. The attack on the Ranjit Singh statue came when the rest of the country was seeking to express its protest against the excesses committed against another subjugated religious minority — this time the Muslims of India-held Kashmir. That is a just cause. Meanwhile, the authorities here need to keep their eyes open for any unwanted adventurers likely to carry out violent acts.

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