After GB polls
THE Gilgit-Baltistan elections have delivered little surprise. Despite the spirited campaign by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz, the GB electorate has chosen to vote as per convention for the party ruling in Islamabad. The final results show the independent candidates also winning in large numbers. Many of them are expected to join hands with the PTI helping it form the government in GB.
The PPP has also done fairly well while the PML-N has trailed the others, with one key reason being the exodus of some important electable candidates from its ranks prior to the elections. These elections saw unprecedented levels of campaigning as well as wide media coverage because they took place in the backdrop of a larger political confrontation between the PTI and the opposition alliance PDM. The reactions to the results therefore are as unsurprising as the results themselves. The PTI says the poll outcome has buried the opposition’s narrative; the PPP and PML-N say the results are a product of electoral rigging.
Neither may hold fully. The opposition may cry foul at alleged electoral malpractices but unless it can come up with some solid evidence, its accusations will stay confined to political jalsas and TV talk shows. Similarly, the PTI will gloat that the opposition’s campaign will be deflated because of its loss in GB, but this claim too will echo into ultimate oblivion across the mountains and valleys of Gilgit, Skardu and Nagar. In the plains of Punjab, KP and Sindh, the PDM’s campaign against the government is not likely to suffer any adverse impact.
In fact, it may get buoyed by the fresh ammunition of rigging which the PDM will use to weaponise its rhetoric for the upcoming rallies. After a three-week break for the GB elections, the PDM kicks off its campaign in Peshawar next week followed by jalsas in Multan, Lahore and Larkana. These high-octane events will further raise the political temperature and vitiate the already toxic environment. If GB elections were expected to release some pressure, this is not likely to happen. There is cause for worry. The PPP was seen as being more flexible in its approach towards the establishment compared to the rigid stance of the PML-N but the GB elections have provided the PPP leadership a reason to clench its fists. Mr Bhutto-Zardari has already declared that the elections have been stolen.
Given this tense situation, and the intensifying war of words over the next few weeks, it would be advisable for saner elements on all sides to take a step back. They may want to lower the temperature through better cooperation and coordination in parliament. Some form of dialogue needs to happen and parliament is the most relevant forum for it. The government should take the initiative in this regard without further delay.
PM in Balochistan
BECAUSE Balochistan is seen as relatively ‘far’ from the national political mainstream in this country, whenever high officials visit the province expectations are high. During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Balochistan last week, a number of promises were made to the people of Pakistan’s geographically largest but also its most underdeveloped province. Mr Khan rightly pointed out that to ensure a strong country, all federating units must taste the fruits of development. Unfortunately, despite its mineral wealth Balochistan has failed to see accompanying development over the decades, which has played a large part in fuelling alienation. Speaking in Kech district, Mr Khan reiterated that under the CPEC umbrella, the “government is giving all attention to speedy development of” Balochistan, while urging the province’s youth to focus on their education. Mr Khan also laid the foundations for a number of infrastructure and social projects in the province during his visit.
There has for long been talk of bringing Balochistan into the political mainstream, and several elected governments have launched well-meaning steps to improve basic indicators in the province. However, there seems to be no holistic plan to address Balochistan’s problems. What is more, the fact that the province has often been viewed purely through the security lens has also prevented improvement in the socioeconomic situation. Take health and education; according to one figure, around 60 to 70pc of Balochistan’s children are out of school (the figure touches 78pc for girls) while in the health sector, the province has the country’s highest maternal mortality rate. If Balochistan is to reap the benefits of CPEC or other infrastructure projects, then it needs to have an educated and healthy population. Mr Khan’s focus on education is well-placed; now this vision must translate into accessible schools in all of Balochistan’s districts where its children can get a decent education. Some have attributed Balochistan’s backwardness to the sardars that operate in many parts of it. While this contention cannot be ruled out, it is the state that bears primary responsibility for lack of development in this federating unit. In fact, the state’s use of Balochistan’s resources and its lack of attention to socioeconomic development are among the factors that have fuelled separatist militancy in the province. This alienation can be reversed when the people of Balochistan see that both the centre and the provincial government are doing everything possible to bring prosperity to this neglected corner of Pakistan.
All hazy on smog
MOTHER Nature came to the rescue of people gasping for breath on Sunday when Lahore and many other parts of Punjab received their first spell of winter rain. The relief was anxiously awaited ever since a thick and deeply demoralising sheet of smog covered a wide area around the provincial capital. The rain drastically improved the air quality. For instance, in the Quaid-i-Azam Industrial Estate, the Air Quality Index was dramatically down to around 160. Only a day or two earlier, it had shot up to well over 400. Although these are the readings for an industrial area, an AQI level of 401-500 is considered very poor. But for the rain, the index was advancing fast towards the high danger limit of AQI 500. There are many who doubt these numbers as having been downplayed. The sheer inevitability of running into smog more severe than last year’s is playing on their minds and as patience runs out, there are more and more voices holding the authorities responsible for inaction.
In this age, it has taken a ‘privileged’ city and region many seasons to realise that it is not the kiln that is the main source of pollution, ie smog. It is not the mill that irks clean-environment activists, even though like the brick-makers, electricity generators using furnace oil and stubble-burning farmers who were the original suspects, the factory owners too are contributing their share to particles that remain suspended longer in the winter air. In fact, it is transport that is largely responsible for the smog. The government is finally realising this. Thus as it closes down a large number of kilns for a few weeks and on a busy day books more than 100 factories for emitting smoke, it is also seizing a number of vehicles all over Punjab for making the air so unbreathable. But the circumstances demand steps that are permanent, and not seasonal. Efforts must be made to shift to cleaner sources of energy.