Dawn Editorial 27 August 2019

The JUI-F’s October revolution

EVEN as the results for the 2018 general election were trickling in, Maulana Fazlur Rahman knew that he would be ‘soon’ running a campaign to dislodge the Imran Khan government that had not yet been formed. He alleged, amid a slight nod of approval by well-wishers and some independent observers, that the JUI-F had been hard done by in the polls. He must have also intuitively understood that if he decided to not protest against what he calls a ‘fake’ government, his party risked being eliminated in its old bastion of KP. One year later, at the end of a JUI-F executive council meeting in the capital, he is sticking to his guns. He has threatened a ‘decisive’ long march in October to remove the Khan government, and expects the opposition parties to join him at a politically inopportune moment when the country is locked in a tense stand-off with India. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has warned the government against any attempt at disrupting the opposition move, his words of caution coming in the wake of an interview with Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, who took a swipe at the opposition’s ‘long march’, predicting that the procession would not be able to cross Attock, and that people themselves would stop the protesters with force.
Having fulfilled the formality of delivering a crushing riposte to the minister, Maulana Fazlur Rehman will try to build momentum towards the October action after Ashura. This is the time of the year when, with the hottest of the summer months behind them, the politicians start fluttering about, readying themselves for combat. The JUI-F chief may have this in mind. He is also right in implicitly conveying that from among the various players out there, the JUI-F has the organisational skills to bring out the numbers on the roads. The crucial aspect he must give some thought to, however, is whether a big enough section of the people are ready to take part in or endorse yet another oust-the-government move? He may look to Mr Khan’s long dharna for inspiration but must also keep in mind the sit-in of Dr Tahirul Qadri, who gathered the crowds around him, but lacked the support of crucial political ‘elements’.
Above all, is the opposition ready to launch such a big movement? It could try and test the waters by picking up issues to protest, before it gets down to discussing Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s October revolution in earnest. There are so many issues, such as the one-sidedness of the accountability drive or the controversial appointments to the ECP, that need the opposition’s attention. The ‘joint’ opposition should be sufficiently chastened by the stunning defeat of its move to topple the Senate chairman recently, and bear in mind that it could be courting a disaster if it is unprepared and irresolute.



Zarif at G7 summit

THERE have been several close calls in the Gulf over the past few months, as the US and Iran have crossed swords in the strategic waterway following Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal last year. Perhaps the closest call came when the Iranians shot down an American drone in June, which they said had intruded into their territory. This was followed by the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker by the UK in Gibraltar last month; Tehran struck back by seizing a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz a few days later. However, after this geopolitical high drama — much of it sparked by America’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ — things seem to be calming down. One indication of this was the unexpected appearance of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the G7 summit in France over the weekend. While the Americans said the Iranian top diplomat’s visit “was a surprise”, the French government indicated that Mr Zarif had been invited to the summit to “de-escalate the tensions and create breathing space for negotiations”.
The Europeans have, of course, been treading a more careful path on Iran, compared to the bellicosity coming out of the US. Perhaps they realise that if tensions give way to open war, the results could be disastrous for the global economy, and global peace. It will be interesting to see what follows the apparent peace overture. For their part, the Americans have appeared lukewarm and ambiguous about engaging Iran afresh. However, while the threat of immediate conflict in the Gulf may have been postponed for the time being, miscalculations by any of the parties involved can exacerbate matters very quickly. That is why it was a smart move on the part of the Europeans to invite Iran to the G7 conclave in France. From here on, there must be concrete efforts to de-escalate the crisis, beyond photo ops. For one, both the European states and the US must ease financial restrictions that are choking the Iranian economy. Once CBMs such as these take effect, the mood in Tehran — which has only hardened — may mellow and allow for constructive negotiations. As of now, Washington’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ may lead to ‘maximum disaster’ in the Gulf and beyond. The need then is to prevent a new escalation, and re-establish the channels of dialogue.



Blowing smoke

NEWS of what could be the first-ever vaping-related death comes as a shock to many. The Illinois patient had contracted an unexplained respiratory illness, with symptoms similar to those afflicting nearly 200 other patients admitted to US hospitals since June. Health authorities speculate that the sudden illness may have been caused by vaping or e-cigarette use, something common to all the patients. A relatively recent phenomenon, marketed as the ‘slightly better’ alternative to cigarette smoking, vaping has grown in popularity in recent years, especially among younger people. But without any long-term studies on its harmful effects, its supposed benefits have always been questioned. In Pakistan, the vaping trend is not growing rapidly as an alternative to gutkha, cigarette and sheesha smoking due to its much heavier price tag. Unlike the former, however, the harmful effects and long list of respiratory, pulmonary and heart diseases caused by the latter three is well-established. And yet, due to reasons of greater accessibility and cultural acceptability, their sales continue to rise. Politicians and public figures continue be photographed with cigarette or cigars in their hands, despite all the documented evidence of the harm they inflict on public health.
Not only is tobacco use damaging the health of private citizens, it also has an adverse effect on the economy, regardless of the narratives that tobacco companies propagate to counter growing public health concerns. In light of these well-known costs, the government must push for stronger tobacco-control measures, which includes heavily taxing cigarettes, running anti-tobacco awareness campaigns and curtailing the sale of loose cigarettes, especially to minors. However, some argue that raising the price of cigarettes can lead to an increase in the demand for cheaper cigarettes, thus encouraging smuggled trade. Without a sincere crackdown on the illicit trade of cigarettes, all other measures may prove to be futile.
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