Free to travel
FORMER prime minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to fly out of the country for his medical treatment on Tuesday after the Lahore High Court gave him permission to travel without providing any indemnity bond to the government.
The PML-N has celebrated the court’s decision as a vindication of their leader’s refusal to sign any such bond as demanded by the government. However, the court has extracted a signed undertaking from Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif that the latter will return within the stipulated time of four weeks. This time is extendable only if the former prime minister can prove through his medical reports that his treatment requires him to stay abroad for longer. The undertaking by Shahbaz Sharif also says categorically that if at any time the government has credible information that Nawaz Sharif is “living abroad despite his fitness to travel”, a government representative will have the right to verify the state of his health from his doctor. On the face of it then, the matter seems to be settled for now.
There are, however, some complications.
According to the attorney general of Pakistan, the court has issued an interim order, which means that the final judgement on the issue is still awaited. While the court has suspended the requirement of the indemnity bond, it has admitted the petition for hearing in the third week of January. The court has specified that it intends to probe the matter in the light of five key questions that it has written in the interim order. These questions will help the court determine if the federal government can add conditions to the Exit Control List and whether a convict can be included in or excluded from the list. The final judgement, when it is delivered, will clarify the grey areas in the execution of the ECL that have emerged during this current situation.
For now, however, the government’s attempt at blocking Mr Sharif’s travel abroad have come undone.
Government spokespeople are attempting to paint the decision favourably but the fact is that the government tried to pull a fast on Nawaz Sharif and fell short. PTI officials may justify their actions in partisan realpolitik terms but it is obvious that the indemnity bond issue was an ill-thought afterthought that has done nothing except leaving its architects red-faced. The cabinet will now decide if it wants to challenge the Lahore High Court order but the reality is that Nawaz Sharif has got what he wanted and the government has not. Mr Sharif should now get the best treatment he can and ensure that he follows the court order regarding his return in letter and spirit. The system has trusted him. He should return this trust in full.
THE Punjab government is increasingly showing signs of its willingness to work towards the protection of the rights of minorities in the province. Last December, the provincial government announced the Minorities Empowerment Package aimed at uplifting marginalised religious communities. And now, after a meeting with the National Commission for Minority Rights, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has given directives for the collection of details of non-Muslim employees to ensure the protection of their rights, such as giving them a holiday on days of religious significance. He also announced Rs25m (in addition to a similar amount already allocated under the empowerment package) for scholarships to non-Muslim research and post-graduate students. Given the province’s chequered history with regard to extremism and violence against minorities, these efforts by the Punjab government are an encouraging sign of its desire to promote religious inclusion and harmony. Official proactive efforts might also check discriminatory attitudes towards non-Muslim co-workers by their Muslim superiors or colleagues.
Despite being the hub of political power in the country, Punjab has witnessed among the worst instances of religiously motivated violence against members of minority communities. Incidents such as the brutal anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953 and 1974, the merciless burning of Christian houses in Gojra (Toba Tek Singh) in 2009 and Badami Bagh (Lahore) in 2013, and the burning to death of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan (Kasur) in 2014 remain etched in the nation’s collective memory. However, some decisions taken by the judiciary and the government in the recent past — such as the acquittal of Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case; the Supreme Court’s decision to constitute a special bench to protect minority rights in light of a 2014 landmark verdict; and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims — have led to some much-needed course correction. It is true that minority citizens in Pakistan are still marginalised to a large degree, and enjoy fewer freedoms than their Muslim counterparts. However, consistent efforts on the part of the federal and provincial governments to promote religious harmony and the rule of law will slowly but surely reverse at least some of the religiously motivated bigotry that non-Muslims in this country have been subjected to for several decades. It is to be hoped that the Punjab government delivers on what it has promised to the non-Muslim communities of the province, and that the rest of the country also emulates its example.
Battle against diabetes
THE battle against diabetes is one that the world has not been able to come to grips with. An estimated 463m people globally are afflicted with the chronic condition (up to 90pc of them with type 2 diabetes); that is 38m more than were living with it in 2017. These figures by the International Diabetes Federation, released on Nov 14 — World Diabetes Day — also contain alarming news for Pakistan. According to the report, we figure among the top 10 countries for absolute increase in diabetes prevalence, with over 19m people suffering from the disease. Of these, some 8.5m are undiagnosed, which makes them even more susceptible to the life-threatening health issues that diabetes can lead to if not managed properly, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, lower limb amputation, etc.
Diabetes is known, for good reason, as a silent killer. It can sneak up on an individual without presenting any, or very mild, symptoms; public awareness about its innocuous onset is thus imperative to facilitate early detection. Our already creaking public health infrastructure is now dealing with the added burden of a condition that is the gateway to serious complications. It is also equally important for people to realise that unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes is preventable, even though some individuals may be genetically predisposed to it. A healthy lifestyle, in which exercise and a balanced diet play an important role, can help stave off this condition or at least help ameliorate its most debilitating effects. Unfortunately, however, in our part of the world, the tendency is towards a sedentary existence where maintaining one’s weight within reasonable, prescribed limits goes against the cultural pattern. That, as the numbers show, has proven to be a recipe for disaster. As per the IDF report, diabetes prevalence in Pakistan has touched 17.1pc, an astounding 148pc higher than what was previously reported. Public and private health facilities must be proactive in dealing with this distressing state of affairs by raising awareness and early testing.