Trump on Kashmir
AS the leaders of Pakistan and India get ready to fly to the US to attend the UN General Assembly, there has been speculation of a possible meeting on the Kashmir issue at the multilateral moot, with Washington playing the role of facilitator.
President Donald Trump’s recent comments that “a lot of progress” has been made in defusing tensions between the two South Asian states has strengthened this assumption.
The US president will be meeting both prime ministers — Imran Khan and Narendra Modi — and the possibility that Mr Trump will use the meetings to discuss India-held Kashmir cannot be ruled out.
However, considering India’s intransigence — with its stubborn insistence that the decades-old Kashmir issue is an ‘internal’ or ‘bilateral’ matter — as well as the American leader’s own mercurial nature, it is obvious that not too much hope should be pinned on any breakthroughs in the US over the next few days.
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On the ground in IHK, there is no sign that India is ready to abandon its cruel methods of subjugation.
While New Delhi’s military enforcers were already meting out brutal treatment to ordinary Kashmiris who oppose its suffocating rule, now it appears as if even those amongst the held region’s elite who were known for their loyalty to India are being humiliated.
For example, Farooq Abdullah, the octogenarian former chief minister of IHK, has been formally arrested after being held under house arrest for over a month. He has been detained under the Public Safety Act, widely considered a black law, which allows for detention without charge for two years.
Elsewhere, the nightmare of Kashmiris shows no sign of ending. As highlighted in this paper on Tuesday, citizens of the occupied region have told foreign media that they have been brutally tortured by Indian troops on the slightest suspicion of aiding fighters. Young men speak of harrowing beatings, electrocution and other forms of abuse at the hands of the Indians. The brutal methods have sent a wave of fear across the occupied region, with hundreds reportedly detained. It is strange that India still trumpets its democratic credentials despite such damning evidence against it.
In the backdrop of such cruelty and arrogance on the part of India, can any miracle be expected in the US?
While the doors of dialogue should never be closed, New Delhi needs to seriously reconsider its atrocious methods in IHK. The use of force has failed, and failed miserably, to crush the Kashmiri quest for freedom over the last three decades; if the Indian establishment thinks more of such failed policies will bear fruit, it is horribly mistaken. In fact, such methods will only fuel the armed struggle in IHK.
The solution to the Kashmir crisis is obvious: India needs to stand down and talk to the Kashmiris as well as Pakistan to resolve this imbroglio, and shun the current repressive course it has adopted.
Kasur’s fault line
ONCE again, protests have erupted in the city of Kasur over the sexual abuse and murder of children, and parents are forced to relive their worst nightmare, as painful memories of the not-too-distant past resurface. On Tuesday, the bodies of three out of a reported five missing boys were discovered in Chunian tehsil: eight-year-old Faizan and Suleman Akram, and nine-year-old Ali Husnain. Kasur’s trade and local bar associations have called for a strike until arrests are carried out. Following these calls for strikes and agitation from the public — which saw protesters pelting stones at a police station, burning tyres, shutting down shops, and blocking roads — the Punjab police have suspended two of its officials for failing to carry out their duty to protect and serve the public. They also claim to have detained several suspects in connection with the murder of the children, and will be carrying out DNA tests soon. Such knee-jerk efforts may or may not deliver justice, but they certainly help in managing public perceptions.
In 2015, the country was shaken when news of hundreds of videos of young children being forced to perform sexual acts on adults surfaced. These videos were allegedly sold in the market or used to blackmail the parents of the children. If the protesting parents had not clashed with the police, who had previously dismissed their pain and cries for justice, it is likely that the scale of the abuse would never have been unearthed. But even then, the alleged high-profile patrons in power or with close links to those in power were never arrested. Then came the news of the horrific rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari in 2017, which led to even greater outrage, with countrywide protests and increased pressure on the PML-N government. In an attempt to assuage the protests, the then Punjab government hastily carried out the execution of one Imran Ali, who the court found guilty of rape and murder. But the problem did not end there — even if it silenced the protesters for the time being. In December 2018, four other people were arrested for purchasing minor girls for prostitution in Kasur. Clearly, the scale of the rot is extensive for such incidents to keep happening over and over again in one part of the country. Indeed, the sexual abuse of children is Pakistan’s hidden shame.
Heart disease prevention
EXPERTS have suggested that more than 40 people die of heart disease every hour in Pakistan. Until three years ago, the number of such deaths was around 12 per hour. This is an alarming increase of more than 200pc in the heart-related mortality rate. The data speaks volumes for the inability of the public healthcare system to cater to a rapidly growing population; secondly, it shows that there is something inherently wrong with the lifestyles of a majority of Pakistanis. Government spending on healthcare in Pakistan has remained less than 1pc of the GDP over several decades. While the present government came to power promising to make healthcare one of its top priorities and also announced a couple of health programmes, the budgetary allocations tell a different story. The federal health budget was slashed this year, along with the provincial budgets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan. Fortunately, in Sindh the health budget was increased by 19pc, underscoring the provincial government’s plan to improve the provision of healthcare. In this regard, the opening of a chest pain unit by the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in the low-income neighbourhood of Orangi in Karachi is a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, unchecked ‘development’ over the years has led to a decline in the overall quality of life as air pollution has increased and public spaces have been reduced, especially in the bigger cities. Karachi, which has been declared the fifth least liveable city in the world, is a case in point. It is no surprise that sedentary lifestyles and poor diet, combined with bad air quality, have resulted in every third person suffering from hypertension — a precursor to heart disease. If heart patients get medical assistance in time, a large number of these deaths could be prevented. However, this requires that people have easy access to basic but effective healthcare, something that is impossible to achieve until the government makes considerable investment in the development of health facilities and medical staff.