Dawn Editorial 17 December 2019

An evil law

NARENDRA Modi and his Hindutva-infused dispensation, by singling out India’s Muslims and laying the groundwork for legal discrimination against the community, are playing with fire. A new law — the Citizenship Amendment Act — passed by the Indian parliament last week, has sparked a storm of protest across India. As per the law, non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh will now be put on the fast track to Indian citizenship if they face ‘persecution’ in their countries of origin. Coupled with this clearly prejudicial legislation is another, equally sinister scheme up the Modi regime’s sleeve: the National Register of Citizens. This is basically a plan designed to make India’s people prove their nationality, through documentary evidence or otherwise, or else be left off the citizenship rolls. This dubious experiment has already been tried in the state of Assam, and nearly 2m people have been stripped of their citizenship. As critics point out, this is a weapon — disguised in legal language — to permanently disenfranchise India’s Muslims.
The reactions to the BJP-led government’s moves have been intense. Protests on Monday entered their fifth day, with demonstrations in Delhi, along with several of India’s metros. On Sunday, the police savagely smothered a demonstration by students in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university; footage doing the rounds on mainstream and social media shows Indian security men using brute force against protesting students. But it is not just India’s Muslims that are up in arms over the BJP’s moves. Hindus in Assam, for example, have taken to the streets as they fear the new citizenship law will open the floodgates for Bangladeshi Hindus to enter their state and alter the demographic balance. Protests have roiled other north-eastern states for similar reasons, and several people have reportedly been killed. Modi had called for calm on Monday, yet this appeal rings hollow as the Indian prime minister and his ideological comrades are primarily responsible for this mess.
Considering the far-reaching consequences of the BJP government’s moves, it is essential that the international community speaks up and censures India’s blatantly anti-Muslim moves. While there have been muted condemnations from the US and others (a UN official called the CAA ‘discriminatory’) much more forceful criticism is required. The US, EU and India’s trading partners — many of whom are self-proclaimed standard bearers of human rights — must openly condemn Delhi’s Islamophobic behaviour. The proposed citizenship register has sent a chill through India’s Muslim community, while there are credible reports that the central government is building a number of detention centres, apparently to house those whose nationality New Delhi cancels. Though claiming to be a secular democracy, India’s rulers, many of them card-carrying RSS members, are actually aping the grim methodologies of the Third Reich. But is this surprising, considering that the leading lights of the Sangh Parivar were unabashed admirers of European fascism?


The $5bn question

IT was common knowledge at the time when Pakistan began receiving billions of dollars in ‘deposits’ from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that this money was little more than short-term relief.
In those days, Pakistan was running a current account deficit of almost $1bn per month, so every billion borrowed was barely enough to get it through the month.
Then came the oil facility, the detailed workings of which are a bit unclear since it is not known how the oil imports coming under it are booked, and how the payables accumulating on the other hand are being recorded in the country’s accounts.
Certainly, the country’s debt figures do not seem to include purchases made under this facility. But by now the amount that has been borrowed, and digested in the bowels of the economy’s dysfunctions, has crossed $5bn, and word is circulating that the government is interested in converting this outstanding amount into a loan.
This is where things stand at the moment. The funds originally arrived as a one-year deposit, the first of which has already matured and been rolled over.
The IMF demanded that the government get guarantees from all those who extended these reserve extension facilities, as they are referred to, so that they would agree to a rollover upon maturity.
That included the Chinese who had similarly been approached for such support. Now that the time has come to start those rollovers, and for the new government to undertake its diplomatic outreach efforts, we learn that important linkages might exist between the loans and the diplomacy.
There could scarcely be a better illustration of how the economy’s inability to pay its bills — whether on the external or fiscal side — ends up entangling the country in the geopolitical priorities of its lenders.
This has been Pakistan’s story for decades. It is one of the biggest reasons why we found ourselves on the front lines of a superpower’s war, not once but twice. It is the reason why we keep returning to the IMF for a bailout every four of five years.
And it is the reason why our country has never really had an independent foreign policy, because those who stand on crutches cannot walk their own path; they must be led by others. The real cost of that borrowing binge from last year is now coming into sharper relief.


Climate failure

THE lack of seriousness displayed by the larger countries at the conclusion of the COP25 in Madrid proves that the next generation — their concerns aptly represented by the young activist Greta Thunberg — has every right to be angry at world leaders for not doing enough to slow down the catastrophic impact of climate change. Even UN Secretary General António Guterres described the final declaration passed at the end of the climate conference as “disappointing”. He asserted: “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.” According to reports, bigger countries, including the US, Brazil, China, Australia and Saudi Arabia, refrained from pledging bold steps to mitigate the global temperature rise by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, a pivotal step towards slowing down the increase. Hence the participants of the summit were only able to pass a feeble declaration calling for “urgent action” — a cliché of sorts that has become synonymous with the conversation around climate change, in the absence of any concrete steps. The lacklustre response is especially worrying because the Madrid talks were expected to gauge the progress on targets of the Paris Climate Accord, 2015, the most important ones relating to cutting down carbon emissions. However, the resistance by bigger countries means that the progress on reducing emissions could either be stymied or even reversed, while more vulnerable countries including Pakistan and the Philippines continue to pay the ultimate price.
On the other hand, EU countries last week signed the Green Deal in Brussels, aimed at zero carbon emissions by 2050. Whether or not efforts made under this agreement are enough to soften the devastating impact of the global temperature rise remains to be seen. A recent report by the World Meteorological Organisation contains revelations of how close we are to witnessing our own extinction as a civilisation. The world does not need more promises, as Greta Thunberg said at the UN. It needs action, and it needs it now.


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