Dawn Editorial 15 December 2019

Unrepentant lawyers

ONE would have imagined that our ‘upholders of the law’ would have felt profound revulsion at the actions of their compatriots on Wednesday when a mob of black coats stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore. Not only were hospital staff beaten and lifesaving hospital equipment destroyed, but some critically ill patients died during the shameful episode, possibly as a direct result of the mayhem.
However, most lawyers — with certain exceptions — and bar associations have doubled down on the brazen disregard for the norms of decency and the law itself, demanding that the lawyers arrested for running amok like members of a street gang be released immediately.
In keeping with this belligerent stance, the nationwide strike call issued by several bar associations was enforced on Friday through threats and intimidation against those reluctant to participate. Sadly, aside from Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, even many of those who condemned the violence did so in muted language, citing ‘provocation’ on the part of certain PIC doctors against the lawyers as a mitigating factor. This amounts to defending the indefensible. Under no circumstances can an attack on a hospital be justified.
That said, it is also a fact that many doctors in this country have repeatedly dishonoured their oath, a dereliction of duty that can mean the difference between life and death. A glance at some recent incidents suffices to illustrate the point.
Earlier this year, doctors and paramedics in Balochistan went on strike for no less than 50 days during which OPDs in the province’s government-run hospitals remained closed. A month-long strike by doctors in Punjab ended in November only when the Lahore High Court issued an order to the effect.
In September, violent clashes broke out in Peshawar between the police and doctors protesting over a controversial piece of legislation. The rampage at the PIC too began with thuggish behaviour by medical professionals at the hospital.
There have even been occasions when medics have boycotted emergency services. Those at the receiving end are the hapless citizens of this country who cannot afford private health facilities; often, they travel long distances from under-resourced rural areas in search of medical attention in urban centres, only to find shuttered OPDs.
There can be justifiable reasons for doctors to protest, such as insufficient pay at government hospitals, but they should make their case without causing hardship to patients and their families.
For their part, provincial authorities and local administrations must deal swiftly and fairly with incipient disputes and simmering discontent. Eroding mechanisms of arbitration and justice have left this society increasingly prone to knee-jerk reactions and vigilante ‘justice’.
Disturbingly, lawyers today are among the most disorderly segment of the population. Senior advocates have demanded a judicial inquiry into Wednesday’s attack, which is fair enough. But is this crop of lawyers prepared to accept its findings?


Polio resurgence

ON Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated a three-day polio immunisation drive in the capital city. Starting from Dec 16, approximately 39.6m children under the age of five will be administered anti-polio drops by a 260,000-strong vaccination team. In a short speech, the prime minister noted that it was a matter of “shame” for Pakistan to be one of only two countries in the world that still suffer from outbreaks of the virus. He also honoured the memory of all those workers who had lost their lives in the struggle to ensure a better future for the nation’s children. Despite the risk to their lives, vaccine teams continue their duties on the ground, braving harsh winters and hostile terrains to reach their targets. Not too long ago, it seemed like the country was on its way to joining the long list of nations that have been declared polio-free over the years. In 2017, Pakistan recorded only eight new cases of polio, which was a commendable achievement, considering thousands of new cases used to be registered in the 1990s. In 2018, that figure rose slightly to 12.
But 2019 has not been a good year for anti-polio efforts. There were a few instances of attacks on polio teams, which led to the death of two security officials and one polio worker in April. The refusal rates also remained high due to the malicious spread of disinformation about the vaccine on social and mainstream media. And then last month, The Guardian’s investigation into Pakistan’s polio programme resulted in the state minister of health admitting that there was indeed a re-emergence of the vaccine-derived P2 virus in the population. He said that seven children had contracted this P2 strain of the polio virus, which was believed to have been eradicated from the country five years ago. There are now more than 100 new cases of the polio virus in the country, with over 70 of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the most recent instance, two cases from Sindh and one from KP have been detected. At this rate, it is sad to note the likelihood of yet more polio cases as we prepare for the new year. Whatever the challenges may be — and indeed, there are many — the polio eradication effort’s eventual failure or success will rest on the shoulders of the current prime minister.


UK election result

AFTER weeks of campaigning and predictions, the UK general election is over and the results are astounding: an overwhelming majority for the Conservative party led by Boris Johnson, and a harrowing defeat for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. The Tories are set to form a majority government with a total of 365 seats — a historic success which the party has not witnessed since Margaret Thatcher won in 1987. With a majority of 80 seats, the Conservative party has made gains in Labour heartlands across northern England and Wales. The election, which saw voters deviate from a focus on traditional concerns, was a vote on Brexit — Mr Johnson’s message of ‘let’s get Brexit done’ clearly resonated far and wide, despite serious doubts over his integrity. As for Labour, its seismic defeat calls for much introspection. Mr Corbyn has announced he won’t be leading the party in a future election — a decision many will welcome, given how divisive a figure he had become in this poll. The party has to reconcile itself to the voters’ decision to reject Mr Corbyn’s style of politics and engage in a rebuilding campaign.
Mr Johnson is now well-placed to fast-track his Brexit promise. With no obstacles ahead, his pledge to leave the EU on Jan 31, 2020, will become a reality as he now has the parliamentary majority to push through the required legislation. While Mr Johnson is clear on the departure, he will soon have to begin negotiating an ambitious set of trade agreements with the EU which will have to be ratified before the post-Brexit transition period ends in just over a year on Dec 31, 2020. Although Brexit fatigue and a lack of clarity on the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU may have prompted many voters to side with the Tories in this election, the debate is far from over; focusing on the tedious technicalities of the legislation that will govern the Britain’s future trade ties is something that Mr Johnson and his party will now have to do.


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