Dawn Editorial 31 October 2019

Maulana’s march

TENSIONS are mounting as Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi march is expected to reach the capital today.
The government granted permission to the JUI-F chief to hold his sit-in within the precincts of the city, and an expanse of land a few kilometres from Zero Point has been designated as the venue for the congregation. The march that commenced from Karachi has ballooned into sizable numbers as it travels north through Sindh into Punjab and onwards to Islamabad.
Mercifully, so far there have not been any reports of disturbances or disruptions to the life of citizens, and the organisers of the march have kept their word about remaining peaceful and orderly.
Yet the real test begins as the marchers enter the capital and Maulana Fazlur Rehman unveils his plans for the dharna. Protest is his democratic right and as a citizen of Pakistan, he is fully within the ambit of the law in exercising his right. After all, this is what the PTI argued when staging a dharna on Islamabad’s D-chowk in 2014.
It is in fact a good decision by the PTI government to allow the JUI-F chief to bring his supporters unhindered as per the agreement signed between the party and the Islamabad administration. If both stick to this agreement, the protesters should stage a sit-in at the designated venue, voice their protests, air their grievances and then disperse peacefully without causing any civic disturbance.
Any action beyond this would be considered undemocratic — as it was during the PTI-PAT dharna, and later the TLP protest, when violence and major disruptions to daily life were witnessed. The maulana may criticise the government but his demand for its removal cannot be supported. The responsibility is on him to ensure there is no incitement to violence or any action that can be construed as a direct threat to an elected government.
The dharna is also a test for the two main opposition parties that have lent him their support. The PPP and PML-N may have had their reservations, and possibly still do, but their key leaders will be sharing the dharna stage with the maulana. A key question would be whether this shared platform would cement unity within the combined opposition or turn out to be a temporary alignment of forces based on a shared interest. The next few days may provide an answer.
These next few days will, however, feel like eternity for the government. It is vital that decision-makers hold their nerve even if faced with grave provocations. The law-enforcement agencies should do their utmost to avoid any use of force while facilitating the citizens of the twin cities to the maximum. It is the responsibility of the government to keep the political temperature in check by not responding rashly to speeches from the dharna. The system must hold firm. So should the political leadership.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019


Needless suffering

A RECENT report in this paper highlighted a significant (and significantly overlooked) consequence of the doctors’ strike in KP, which has been going on for some time now: the human cost of doctors, nurses and paramedic staff not showing up for duty, which is felt most deeply by patients desperately in need of medical attention. While the protesting doctors’ bodies, the KP police, the government and provincial health authorities battle it out, with apparently no negotiation process in sight, it is unfortunate that the patients are made to suffer the most — particularly children — through no fault of their own, and because of developments they have no control over. In the report, parents of children in need of life-saving vaccinations have complained about missing staff at the hospitals they have visited, at a time when the province is suffering from an entirely preventable outbreak of measles amongst some sections of the population.
Furthermore, the strike presents yet another blow to anti-polio efforts in KP, which has the highest number of polio cases in the country. In recent months, the province has witnessed various communities refusing to have their children vaccinated until other vital services are provided by the government in their localities; a massive spike in vaccine refusal rates due to disinformation campaigns that have created an environment of suspicion and hostility; and an ongoing, even if diminished, threat from religious militancy. On top of all this, the province now has to contend with missing medics to administer polio drops to children whose parents do bring them to health centres for immunisation, which also leads to a burden on the limited staff that continues to show up for duty. This is not the first time that such a strike has resulted in suffering among the population, as similar accounts were reported back in 2012, when several public health clinics were closed during a strike by doctors. While the medical professionals may have valid reasons and every right to protest against what they deem to be an injustice against them, they also have an ethical duty towards patients. A path must be found that does not disrupt such essential or emergency services to the public. In order to end such needless suffering, doctors and provincial authorities must overcome their mutual antagonism and come to the negotiating table. And they must do so as soon as possible, before more lives are endangered through politics and neglect.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019


Women’s T20 series win

WHEN asked to comment on women playing cricket, Sir Len Hutton, one of England’s greatest batsmen in the 1940s, remarked that the idea was “absurd”, that it was “like a man trying to knit”. Had Sir Hutton been alive today he would have had to swallow his words in the face of the amazing talent that women cricketers are displaying globally. In a recent example, Pakistan’s women cricketers whitewashed the visiting Bangladesh women’s team 3-0 in the three-match T20 series at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. With home assignments few and far between since 2009, it is a rare sight to see a foreign team visiting Pakistan for any sport. And given the limited exposure of women cricketers, it is not easy for them to remain in the groove all year round. Hence, Bismah Maroof and her team deserve high praise for their fine show. Give or take a couple of players, the two sides were similar in strength but Pakistan emerged as the better side through sheer team effort and application. Once again the victory onslaught was led by the prolific Javeria Khan and Bismah herself, who ensured that the hosts posted decent totals on the board for the bowlers to defend. Anam Amin, a left-arm spinner who made her debut in 2015, has blossomed into a match winner and turned in a praiseworthy performance.
It is a shame, though, that there was no television coverage of this exciting series. This was a disappointment for the Pakistani team that emphasised there would be more acceptance of women’s cricket if the electronic media supported their matches. Despite the growing stature of women’s cricket across the world, it is by no means at par with men’s cricket when it comes to emoluments or media coverage. This mindset needs to change with cricket boards boosting women’s cricket and attracting more sponsors. In fact, it is clear that the greater interest being shown by the PCB in women’s cricket is already beginning to make a difference.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019


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