Dawn Editorial 20th May 2024

Wheat price crash

WHAT the government has done to Punjab’s smallholder wheat growers by staying out of the market amid crashing prices is deplorable. The majority of farmers were forced to sell their crop to middlemen at throwaway prices.

When some protested against the government for leaving them in the lurch, they were beaten by the police and detained. Their plight was finally voiced by some lawmakers in the National Assembly recently, with PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari calling it ‘economic murder’ of the farmers. Last Thursday, lawmakers from both the treasury and the opposition raised the issue of the arrests of farmers. PPP’s Shazia Marri urged the government to accept the demands of protesting growers, while calling for excesses against them to be brought to an end. PTI’s Amir Dogar pointed out that it was for the first time in the country’s history that the government had refused to purchase wheat from farmers.

The Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, a body representing small- to medium-sized farmers from across Punjab, claims that wheat farmers had lost Rs1.1tr due to a steep drop in grain prices as they were compelled to sell their harvest at around Rs3,000 per 40kg or even less, which is far below Rs3,900 promised by the government. Indeed, the government could not have purchased the entire tradable surplus of 10m tons this year. However, its presence in the market would have kept prices from crashing.

Punjab’s farmers are going through difficult times, exacerbated by policy failure and the import of over 3.4m tons of wheat shortly before the bumper harvest on the direction of the caretaker government. The imports had facilitated traders to make quick bucks at the cost of both farmers and urban consumers who paid higher prices for low-quality imported wheat.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was quick to set up a probe committee to pin responsibility for the decision to import at a time when the country had adequate stocks from the last harvest and authorities were expecting a record wheat output on the back of a significant increase in the area under cultivation. Nonetheless, the media reports suggest, the terms of the inquiry were changed later and it was stopped from looking into the questionable role of the caretaker administration in allowing heavy imports for some inexplicable reasons. The committee’s mandate is now limited to investigating imports during March.

It remains a mystery why the premier does not want to probe the role of caretakers in wheat imports despite the negative impact of the ‘crisis’ on the position of the ruling PML-N among farmers. So far, the formation of the probe committee appears to be an attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet, unless it is allowed to hold a thorough inquiry and pin responsibility for reckless imports.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

Afghan corruption

AMONGST the reasons that the Afghan Taliban marched into Kabul in August 2021 without any resistance to speak of from the Western-backed government was the fact that the regime — and those before it — was notoriously corrupt and inept. While the elite made fortunes thanks to billions of dollars of Western aid pouring into the country, most ordinary Afghans lived miserable lives where poverty and violence were the only constants. And as the Dubai Unlocked investigation has revealed, along with other international high-rollers, a number of well-connected Afghans that were part of the erstwhile power structure scooped up property worth millions of dollars in the emirate, while ordinary Afghans struggled to put food on the table. Amongst the characters that feature in the Dubai Unlocked leaks is a former speaker of the Afghan parliament and his son, who own property in the emirate worth over $15m. Both these individuals have been slapped with US sanctions for allegedly siphoning off funds meant for reconstruction, yet deny any wrongdoing. Another character is a warlord related to ex-Afghan president Hamid Karzai. He provided security to the Americans in Afghanistan and also owns pricey Dubai real estate, though a US Congressional report says he was using American dollars to pay off the Taliban.

The Dubai Unlocked data related to Afghanistan serves as another cautionary tale against the perils of Western nation-building projects. The fact is that a kleptocratic elite was promoted and funded by the Americans and their allies for two decades, many of whom stashed bags full of cash away in foreign havens as the Afghan people suffered. Iraq experienced a similar fate after the 2003 invasion. This does not mean that the Afghan Taliban are a better alternative; their hard-line administration is responsible for clamping down on civil rights, particularly anti-women measures. But instead of foreign ‘saviours’ bringing ‘democracy’ to nations, this process should be organic and owned and led by local people. When foreign forces with little knowledge of local conditions bring ‘democracy’ and ‘progress’ by force, the result will be little different to the Afghan tragedy. Today, as per UN figures, over half of Afghanistan’s people need humanitarian aid to survive. Meanwhile, many of those who were ruling over them for two decades continue to enjoy the fruits of their ill-gotten wealth, funded by Western states.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

Volleyball triumph

IN the last week, while Pakistan’s cricket team savoured a come-from-behind T20 series victory against Ireland, another national team bagged a share of the spotlight thanks to its sterling performances. Pakistan’s volleyball team proved invincible at the Central Asian Championship in Islamabad, romping to the title with victory over Turkmenistan in the final. The volleyball team has made huge strides in the past few years. It finished fifth at the Asian Games last year; its best performance since winning bronze at the 1962 edition. With a global ranking of 51, it is South Asia’s best team although it competes in the Central Asian region and emerged as the top team there. Next up for Murad Jehan’s men is the Asian Championship. The current lot has shown a lot of potential and while the team has been showered with messages of congratulations, it needs more patronage. Ahead of the final Murad spoke of the need for a professional league in the country. He did not mince his words in stating that Pakistan’s national team had improved because most players compete in leagues abroad.

Setting up the league could be the first step. On the same day the volleyball team won the Central Asian title, Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Ahsan Iqbal vowed that the government would do its best to uplift sports. It would do well to start with volleyball and hockey, where the national team recently showed signs of revival by reaching the final of the Azlan Shah Cup. But the government needs to look beyond handing out jobs to players. It should organise competitions, which will enable players to earn on a regular basis. With cricket dominating the headlines and bagging the biggest chunk of whatever is on offer in terms of sports sponsorship, it has been a struggle for other sports. These teams and players have shown that they too need to be celebrated and supported equally.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

DAWN Vocab

1. Deplorable (adjective): extremely bad or unpleasant

Example sentence: “The conditions in the refugee camp were deplorable, with inadequate food and shelter.”

2. Economic murder (phrase): a situation where someone is forced to sell their goods or services at a very low price, causing financial ruin

Example sentence: “The government’s refusal to support the farmers led to economic murder, as they were forced to sell their crops at throwaway prices.”

3. Excesses (noun): extreme or unreasonable behavior

Example sentence: “The police were accused of excesses during the protest, using unnecessary force against the demonstrators.”

4. Kleptocratic (adjective): describing a government or leader that uses power to steal or exploit resources for personal gain

Example sentence: “The kleptocratic regime was notorious for its corruption and embezzlement of public funds.”

5. Nation-building (phrase): the process of creating a sense of national identity and unity

Example sentence: “The government’s nation-building efforts aimed to bring together diverse groups and create a shared sense of purpose.”

6. Organic (adjective): developing naturally or spontaneously, without external influence

Example sentence: “The grassroots movement was an organic response to the community’s needs, led by local leaders.”

7. Patronage (noun): support or sponsorship, often in a condescending or controlling manner

Example sentence: “The government’s patronage of the arts was seen as a way to control the creative output of the country.”

8. Professional league (phrase): a formal organization of teams or individuals competing at a high level

Example sentence: “The establishment of a professional league for volleyball players has raised the sport’s profile and competitiveness.”

9. Sterling (adjective): exceptionally good or impressive

Example sentence: “The team’s sterling performance in the championship earned them a spot in the international tournament.”

10. Uplift (verb): to improve or enhance something, often in a moral or spiritual sense

Example sentence: “The government’s initiatives aimed to uplift the marginalized communities, providing access to education and healthcare.”

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