Dawn Editorial 25 September 2019

Trump’s ‘offer’

THOUGH Donald Trump’s offer to mediate between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir issue may come across as a sound idea, there’s very little reason to believe that the American president is keen to pursue it.
Read: Trump says ready to mediate on Kashmir if both Pakistan, India want
For one, Mr Trump is known for his mercurial character, saying one thing and then making a U-turn within days or even hours. Secondly, mediation can only work if New Delhi sheds its rigid stance that the burning issue of India-held Kashmir is an ‘internal’ problem.
The US president has already made several similar ‘offers’ of mediation; the latest of these came during his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan in New York on Monday.
“I will be ready to do it,” Mr Trump told reporters with Mr Khan by his side, apparently eager to play the role of conciliator.
Where global crises are concerned, Mr Trump’s propensity for making U-turns on American policy, indeed, his own actions, has become a regular feature of his tenure.
For example, Mr Trump is largely responsible for the current imbroglio in the Gulf, thanks to his withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal because of his intense dislike of all things related to his predecessor Barack Obama.
And just when the Afghan crisis seemed to be approaching a solution, the US leader called off a meeting with the Afghan Taliban at Camp David earlier this month, and torpedoed plans for further negotiations.
In the present case, just a day before his conversation with Mr Khan, he attended a rally in Texas, patiently listening as India’s prime minister fulminated against Pakistan to the raucous applause of the Indian diaspora. It appears that Mr Trump is in election mode and making efforts to secure the American-Indian vote, while attempting to appear ‘neutral’ by praising Pakistan and its leadership.
The fact is that while Pakistan should welcome mediation, it should not have any expectations on this front from Mr Trump.
While bilateral attempts to resolve the Kashmir issue have stalled, Pakistan should continue to engage with world capitals and inform them of India’s atrocities in the held valley. Indeed the UN General Assembly is an ideal forum to tell the world of the plight of Kashmiris who have been suffocating under Indian occupation for decades.
Due to its economic prowess and slick PR, India has deflected much of the criticism of its tactics in IHK. But that should not prevent Pakistan from continuing to plead Kashmir’s case in all forums, while urging states to censure India for its human rights abuses.
If Mr Trump is indeed ready to mediate, he must tell Mr Modi, in no uncertain terms, that Indian troops have made life in the occupied region a living hell where human rights continue to be violated with impunity. Otherwise, much like his other actions, the US leader’s words will appear as mere theatrics on the world stage.


Auto sector woes

THERE have been many news stories of late about the dire state of the country’s automobile sector. It is of concern that the number of nonproductive days, or NPDs, is increasing each month at auto plants, and the spectre of large-scale lay-offs is advancing closer. Inventories have piled up at the three main plants, with Toyota and Honda especially hard hit, and at the rate of current accumulation, these inventories could reach the level of one month’s production soon. At that point, the management of these plants may well have some very difficult questions to answer: should they shut down for the full month and start laying off full-time, permanent staff? At the moment, they are coping by cutting down the number of shifts, thus raising the number of NPDs during which their workforce is sent on forced, unpaid leave. The situation is aggravated further by the second-round impact on the vendors — those manufacturers whose output feeds into the auto assemblers. According to one estimate, for every one job in the main auto assembly sector, there are eight jobs in the vending and ancillary industry. So if the auto assemblers have laid off an estimated 4,000 people, given the cut in the number of shifts and increasing NPDs, the vendors are likely to have dismissed the services of close to 32,000 people, a figure that becomes even larger if we include other related industries. And this is just the beginning of the story.
Of course, this is a global trend. The auto industry in many other countries is reeling from contracting demand. It is also a larger trend seen in manufacturing, within Pakistan as well as in the region and beyond. But two things should be borne in mind. First, in other countries the government is taking active measures to help support the industry in its time of crisis. India, for example, rolled out its package of measures to help the industry in late August. Second, the trend of an aggravated slowdown is visible across manufacturing sectors, but the auto sector is employment-heavy, and the government has an obligation to safeguard jobs. There are good reasons why the government should also take steps to alleviate the problems of manufacturing in general, if only to help protect employment and save whatever is left of the country’s productive base. It is high time we realised that this situation will not self-correct.


Literary storm

POLITICS, freedom of expression and conscience, and the burden of history: all these have coalesced in a storm of controversy over the revocation of the Nelly Sachs Prize to acclaimed British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie. Earlier this month, she was announced the winner of the biennial literary award named after the Jewish poet and Nobel Laureate. However, a few days ago, the jury in the German city of Dortmund rescinded the award upon learning that Ms Shamsie has expressed her commitment to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in support of Palestinian rights. The decision has not gone down well in the literary community. Over 250 writers from across the world have put their signatures to an open letter titled ‘The right to boycott’ that was printed on Monday in the London Review of Books, denouncing the move as tantamount to punishing a writer for human rights advocacy.
Among them are some of the finest practitioners of their craft and those whose works are a defining voice in contemporary social and political commentary — Arundhati Roy, Michael Ondaatje, Ben Okri, J.M. Coetzee, Noam Chomsky and William Dalrymple, to name but a few. In its zeal to expiate the sins of the past, Germany — along with other countries — has sometimes over-compensated by turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state. Ironically, Nelly Sachs, whose verses capture the horror of the Holocaust and lingering effects on the Jews who survived it, herself continued a correspondence with a younger generation of German writers in her later years. A sense of moral purpose and an understanding of the human condition on the part of an artist add to their work, rather than detracting from it. As the open letter says, “What is the meaning of a literary award that undermines the right to advocate for human rights, the principles of freedom of conscience and expression, and the freedom to criticise? Without these, art and culture become meaningless luxuries”.


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