Dawn Editorial 30 May 2021

Turning the corner?

FINALLY, some light at the end of the tunnel. New cases of Covid-19 are falling in Pakistan, clocking in at 2,455 on Friday, the fifth consecutive day they remained below 3,000. The positivity rate detected during the same period was 4.42pc, the fourth day running it was less than 5pc. This is reason for hope, a validation of the measures taken thus far — and perhaps some as yet unknown factors — that have helped us evade the devastation that the pandemic has wreaked in India. However, there is a development of concern, which was inevitable despite timely and appropriate action to prevent it. The National Institute of Health announced on Friday that it had detected the first confirmed case of the Indian strain of Covid-19 in the country. That underscores how in this evolving saga of the novel coronavirus, letting one’s guard — or mask — down is not an option. The vaccines do not prevent infection, but they are to varying degrees — often 100pc — successful in preventing serious disease and death.
The vaccination campaign is also moving along, though given our massive population we have inoculated only a miniscule segment of it. Total number of vaccinations across Pakistan on May 27 was 284,975, bringing the tally of people who have received at least one dose to 6,709,848. The National Command and Operation Centre recently announced walk-in vaccination for those 30 years and older. It has also opened the registration process for individuals 19 years and over, which means almost the entire adult population of Pakistan can now get itself inoculated, depending on the availability of vaccines. So far, over 11m doses of vaccines against the novel coronavirus have been received, with 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine the most recent to arrive under the Covax facility. Of course, soon the supply will exceed demand: vaccine reluctance is a reality even in advanced countries with high literacy levels. The recent apocalyptic scenes of people dying from the disease on the roadside in India and smoke from funeral pyres darkening the skies in parts of its urban centres likely contributed to convincing many here to get themselves inoculated. But the tendency towards vaccine scepticism is bound to resurface again and a robust campaign to counter it is important.
At the same time, there are millions of Pakistanis who do not possess CNICs, making them ineligible for vaccination. There are also an estimated 3m legal and illegal Afghans and people of other nationalities living here. While the NCOC has decided that those with valid documentation of refugee status will be vaccinated, the authority is still considering how to inoculate the rest. The case of illegal aliens is particularly tricky for they would avoid presenting themselves to the authorities for fear of harassment or deportation. Nevertheless, a way must be found. None of us are safe, until all of us are safe.




Balochistan violence

THE authorities have justifiable reason for their growing concern about the law and order situation in Balochistan. An intelligence-based operation early Wednesday in a Quetta locality killed four suspected members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, including a commander. On April 21, the banned militant outfit had claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing in the parking area of the high-security Serena Hotel in Quetta. The attack claimed the lives of at least five people and wounded a dozen others. A resurgent TTP, amidst the turmoil in Afghanistan next door, was a very real possibility — especially after a breakaway faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, and JuA’s splinter group Hizbul Ahrar both merged with the umbrella organisation last year.
However, the last few months have seen a flurry of IED explosions of low and medium intensity for which no militant outfit has claimed responsibility. Last Monday, at least five people were injured in Quetta when a roadside bomb exploded. That came on the heels of another attack in which seven people were slain and 14 injured in a bombing that targeted a Palestine solidarity rally in the border town of Chaman. In April, an IED wounded 14 people at a football match in the town of Hub. The bombings were seemingly random occurrences, with soft targets for the most part. Balochistan has been the theatre of some horrific acts of terrorism, often resulting in large-scale casualties. In January, 11 Hazara coal miners were slaughtered in an attack claimed by the militant Islamic State group. In the run-up to the 2018 polls, a massive suicide bombing at an election rally left over 130 people dead. There was a brazen assault in May 2019 on a five-star hotel in Gwadar, the coastal city believed to be fortified against terrorist attacks. The province has long been perceived as ‘troubled’, almost by default. While most of the recent comparatively low-casualty IED explosions may give the impression that the security situation is now ‘under control’, the picture as a whole is extremely disquieting. All indications are that the province is once again becoming a staging ground for militants of various stripe. The TTP is revitalised, possibly even more so because the impending US troop withdrawal across the Afghan border affords it more operational space. The Baloch insurgents too will certainly exploit the situation to their advantage. The law-enforcement authorities cannot afford to let down their guard for even an instant at this critical juncture.



UNGA chief on Kashmir

BY all definitions, the Kashmir issue is the major stumbling block to peace in South Asia, and until a judicious solution acceptable to the people of the region is reached, the subcontinent is unlikely to see stability. The UN General Assembly’s president Volkan Bozkir, on his arrival in Pakistan on Thursday, gave some constructive advice to the state on how to raise the issue at the world body. What is more, the UN official made a very pertinent point when he said that the parties to the conflict must not change the status of the disputed territory till the matter is resolved.
Mr Bozkir was making an obvious reference to the events of August 2019, when India moved to make constitutional changes paving the way for the illegal annexation of India-held Kashmir. This has allowed Indians to move into the occupied area; according to one estimate, 430,000 new domicile certificates have been issued to outsiders.
As and when the Pakistan-India peace process moves forward, the situation in held Kashmir must not be lost sight of. By all means both sides must try and work on ‘softer’, less contentious issues that can play the role of confidence-builders, helping solidify the peace process. Yet India cannot be allowed to manufacture ‘facts on the ground’ in Kashmir by settling outsiders and changing the demographic make-up of the occupied territory. This concern must be included in the dialogue process, for if it is ignored it may affect the judicious settlement of the Kashmir issue.
The other very relevant point the UN official made about the Kashmir question was the need for this country to work harder to raise the issue internationally, specifically to “bring it to the United Nations platform more forcefully”. Mr Bozkir added that the Kashmir dispute lacked the level of world support the Palestine question enjoyed, though it must be mentioned that even the Palestine issue only appears on the global agenda after Israel launches a bloody attack against the Arab side.
After India’s unilateral move to annex Kashmir in 2019, Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment did activate itself and world capitals were lobbied to bring the plight of the Kashmiris to the international stage. However, the UN representative is absolutely correct that more can be done to highlight the issue. For example, he has suggested Pakistan can initiate a debate on Kashmir at UNGA supported by other states. Indeed, there is much work ahead in this regard, and Pakistan should liaise with Muslim states as well as other countries sympathetic to the Kashmir cause to ensure the issue is brought to the fore. The Kashmiris’ cause is righteous and their struggle just. Therefore, Pakistan must give all the support it can to ensure the voice of the occupied valley reaches the hallowed halls of the UN, and other multilateral forums.


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