Dawn Editorial 19th May 2024

Students in Kyrgyzstan

BEING stranded on foreign shores is hardly an agreeable experience. And if the environment is hostile — as it appears to be for foreign students, including Pakistanis, in Kyrgyzstan — then the ordeal can take a dangerous turn.

Distress calls, reports and videos from Pakistani students in the Kyrgyz capital and Kant are pouring in thick and fast. Frightened youngsters allege that enraged mobs break into their hostels, pummel them, steal money and destroy personal property.

Talking to journalists on WhatsApp calls, students said that there was a shortage of food supplies because they were unable to leave their rooms. Disturbing visuals circulating on social media show armed crowds breaking doors and beating students.

According to media reports, foreign students in Bishkek, including Pakistanis, were assaulted by locals after their clash with Egyptian nationals on May 13. While the cause of the confrontation remains unclear, some five Pakistanis are reportedly injured. Pakistan has advised students to stay indoors amid violence targeting the international student community.

If circumstances are as rough as the students claim, the government must take action and address the distress faced by its young citizens caught in turmoil.

Mixed messages through media reports and rumours are creating panic and fear. Therefore, the Pakistani mission in Bishkek needs to adopt a hands-on, personable method to tend to students’ needs, such as nourishment, medicine, security and even returning to their families. The government ought to navigate these circumstances with a direct approach comprising convincing communication with the students and Kyrgyz authorities.

In addition, the consular staff should be directed to extend adequate support through helplines, which convey regular updates and tackle challenges faced by distraught citizens. Our foreign minister should designate personnel to monitor the situation and establish contact with his Kyrgyz counterpart so that stranded youth have absolute protection.

A worrying story of citizens in extraordinary conditions cannot become another example of state abandonment.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

Penalising the dutiful

DOES the government feel no remorse in burdening honest citizens with the cost of its own ineptitude? With the prices of almost all necessities at backbreaking levels, even those who considered themselves well-to-do just a couple of years ago now worry about making ends meet. Inflation has wreaked such havoc over the past two years that those merely surviving from paycheque to paycheque are now considered lucky. Meanwhile, most of the citizenry is slowly but surely being condemned to take on debt to keep surviving — all because the country’s leadership has proven incapable and unable to manage the historic economic crisis Pakistan has waded into. According to a recent news report, the government is seeking an additional burden on bill-paying customers for its inability to recover dues from defaulters, with a summary seeking to extract an additional Rs52bn from bill-paying citizens presented to the national power regulator. Of course, this is nothing new — the state has made a habit of squeezing those who are dutiful about paying their dues, be it through its taxation policies or utility bills. However, in the present economic conditions, these policies have become too much to bear.

The government must spare a thought for the struggling masses. Two regions — Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir — have already seen mass agitation movements triggered by the surging cost of living. Both saw considerable violence before the government finally caved in to protesters’ demands. Does Islamabad have a plan to cope in case the people of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also start organising in protest? It must bear in mind that it will have a very difficult time defending increasing the cost of electricity when the people can point out that it is its own ineptitude that is the reason for the added financial burden being shoved onto them. Our authorities frequently run colourful campaigns about the government’s ‘zero-tolerance policy’ towards power theft. Why should the people suffer if they have been unable to translate their words into action? The public cannot afford the government’s incompetence anymore. It should make the defaulters pay. There is no way around this.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

Border clashes

THE Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier has witnessed another series of flare-ups, this time in the Kurram tribal district that borders several Afghan provinces. The hostilities indicate the need for better border management from both sides, so that minor disputes do not descend into armed exchanges. Thankfully a ceasefire was agreed to on Saturday, with the border reopening. Earlier, those living in border villages had moved to safer locales as forces from both states traded fire. Trade activities at the Kharlachi crossing had also been suspended. The trigger for the escalation remains unclear. Though the Taliban remained tight-lipped, Afghan media claimed a number of “civilians” had lost their lives in the clashes, which had been continuing for several days but intensified on Friday.

Pakistan’s cross-border issues with Afghanistan are of two kinds. The first involves direct hostilities between security forces of both nations. The second element is that of cross-border terrorism perpetrated in Pakistan by militant groups that have apparently found sanctuary in Afghanistan. Both these outstanding issues need to be resolved in order to ensure mutual security. While some in official circles had felt that security would improve after the Western-backed government in Kabul fell and the Taliban took over, this has not been the case. Ever since the August 2021 fall of Kabul, cross-border security has remained tenuous. The number of incidents over the past several months is numerous. For example, the Torkham crossing has remained closed for days on end due to various disputes. Sometimes these closures have taken a violent turn, with security forces trading fire. Pakistan has also struck reported terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan; the last major such incident took place in March after a number of security personnel were martyred in a North Waziristan ambush. Meanwhile, a terrorist incursion in Chitral was thwarted by security forces in September last year.

While Pakistan has communicated its “deepest concerns” to Kabul regarding the latest hostilities, there is a need to work with the de facto Afghan government to ensure the western border remains peaceful. Local-level disputes at the frontier need to be resolved by area commanders and officials before they deteriorate into exchanges of fire. Moreover, the Afghan side must realise that the Durand Line is the border, and change in its status is non-negotiable from the Pakistani point of view. The issue of cross-border terrorism is more complicated. While the Taliban authorities may be in denial about the presence of militants on Afghan soil, securing the border — and ensuring no anti-Pakistan terrorists are able to threaten this country’s security from the Afghan side — is the Taliban’s responsibility. While it may appear that Islamabad’s antiterrorism concerns are not being seriously entertained by Kabul, the state must continue to use diplomatic channels to communicate its views.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

May 20, 2024

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