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Dawn Editorial 15 December 2020

Escalating tension

THE Pakistan Democratic Alliance says it will be stepping up its campaign against the PTI government in the coming days and has announced it will start its long march to Islamabad at the end of January.
PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman made this announcement on Monday a day after the alliance held its final jalsa in Lahore. The much-hyped rally attracted a sizeable crowd at the Minar-i-Pakistan though it was not a ‘game changer’ as many were claiming. Regardless of the numbers in attendance, the tone and tenor of the speeches made by the opposition leaders was incendiary.
Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman took turns targeting the establishment as well as Prime Minister Imran Khan. In response, the government has poured scorn on the Lahore jalsa and termed it a ‘flop’.
The coming few weeks offer an uncertain scenario. What is more certain is that the two sides are refusing to relent. If anything, the intransigence has increased, and it is fairly clear that both sides have dug in their heels. PDM leaders said categorically on Monday the time for negotiations was over and they would not speak with anyone, including the establishment.
Government ministers on their part spent the day ridiculing the opposition and reiterating their position that the government was here to stay. The environment therefore is ripe for further escalation. If the PDM decides to start agitation in various forms for the next few weeks, the government will be tempted to use force. This could lead to violence which can easily spiral out of control. If matters are not resolved in the coming days, and if some middle way is not found before the PDM starts marching towards Islamabad, options for a solution will start slamming shut for all parties concerned.
By not announcing anything specific at this stage, the PDM might be buying time to find some common ground. This time should be well utilised. The government should therefore de-escalate its rhetoric and offer some dialogue to the opposition. So far the official position is that the government is ready and willing to hold a dialogue in parliament. This needs to be elaborated further so that, if nothing else, the political temperature is brought down.
The opposition for its part should also ensure that whatever activity it resorts to does not spill over into violence. It is understandable that both sides have to keep one eye on their constituencies and position themselves for political advantage, but this too must be done in a calculated way. Even disorder should be managed. Saner minds should sense the opportunity that exists before the drums of the long march and resignations start beating loudly. Negotiations are the only way to find an opening out of this logjam. They should be given a chance.

 

 

Journalists targeted

THAT Pakistan once again features on a list of countries with the largest number of journalists killed in the last 30 years is a damning indictment of a state that has failed to protect the country’s media workers who fulfil an essential role in a democratic system. According to the International Federation of Journalists, that published a White Paper on Global Journalism, Pakistan is among the five nations considered the “most dangerous countries for practice of journalism in the world”. The paper notes that Pakistan has seen the deaths of 138 journalists since 1990 — a grim statistic that bodes ill for freedom of press in the country. This report comes in the same year in which the Freedom Network recorded at least 91 cases of violence — which includes murder, assault, censorship, threats and legal suits — against journalists in Pakistan over the past year. Sadly, even though fewer journalists are being murdered in Pakistan today, more of them are being intimidated, threatened, censored and punished than ever before — a phenomenon that shows that both state and non-state actors are adopting new ways to silence media workers.
The reality under which journalists in Pakistan operate is highly disturbing and points to the rapidly shrinking space for criticism and independent thinking. Journalists are openly threatened and rebuked on social media — often by accounts linked to the government. This year alone, some journalists have been booked in sedition cases while others have been kidnapped — and released after huge public outcry. Though the number of killings have gone down, such tactics of intimidation are on the rise. Moreover, little is done to resolve cases of murder and assassination attempts on journalists, such as that of Hamid Mir who was attacked in 2014, but who still awaits justice. Unfortunately, when the prime minister is asked about censorship and the kidnappings of journalists, he denies the environment of threats or feigns ignorance. This is not acceptable. Journalists in Pakistan often work in miserable conditions to bring information and facts to members of the public. That their struggle is punished rather than lauded is a tragedy. The state would do well to realise that journalists are messengers, not adversaries. A hawkish approach to the media and a denial of the dangerous circumstances in which journalists operate betrays authoritarian ambitions and an unwillingness to respect press freedom. Such an attitude, though common in a dictatorship, has no place in a democracy.

 

 

Covid unit closure

WITH the second wave of Covid-19 presenting enormous challenges to the national health system, the state must remain ready at all levels to face the circumstances. However, the imminent closure of a dedicated coronavirus unit recently in one of Karachi’s biggest public hospitals reportedly due to lack of funds shows that bureaucratic bottlenecks are impeding the fight against Covid-19. As reported, the Covid-19 Infectious Disease and Research Centre at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital faces being shut down less than a month after the facility became operational. The 100-bed centre, run by the local government, offers free treatment and many patients are facing uncertainty if the facility does close down. A charity organisation was paying for the facilities at the centre, but as the Karachi administration has failed to reimburse the funds, the future of the dedicated health facility looks bleak. Moreover, as no elected local government is in place in the city, the issue requires the immediate attention of the Sindh government and the Karachi administrator.
In these times of economic hardship, institutions offering free Covid-19 treatment, as well as other healthcare facilities, are essential. The Abbasi Shaheed Hospital caters to those citizens who cannot afford steep fees at private health facilities, so depriving this large segment of the population of healthcare at a critical time is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the development also speaks volumes for the lack of planning and preparation where public-sector projects are concerned. It must be investigated how such a high-profile scheme at a major city hospital faces the dearth of funds within such a short period of its launch. Unfortunately, it is perhaps yet another casualty of the lack of a functioning local government system in Karachi. Instead of closing down such facilities, more such healthcare interventions are needed in the public sphere, especially where the provision of primary and secondary care is concerned. The people are in no position to fend for themselves and have been left at the mercy of expensive private healthcare providers.

 

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