Dawn Editorial 3rd March 2024

Without VCs

THE delay in appointing vice chancellors across Pakistan’s universities has mushroomed into a crisis, with one third — 51 out of 154 — lacking regular VCs. Among those affected are the capital’s Quaid-i-Azam University, Allama Iqbal Open University, and International Islamic University Islamabad, where the posts became vacant in November 2023. The leadership vacuum has persisted for over one and a half years in the case of many institutes. The Punjab University Council of Professionals has criticised the Punjab government for its failure to fill the vacant posts, highlighting the detrimental impact on 25 universities within the province, including Punjab University. In the absence of permanent VCs, students are not only experiencing a decline in academic standards but also an increase in tuition fees. The HEC’s call for a transparent appointment process has largely gone unheeded, with patronage, nepotism, and political influence continuing to overshadow merit and qualifications. Instances of highly qualified candidates being overlooked to accommodate politically favourable ones indicate a selection process marred by lack of integrity and transparency. Meanwhile, the decision to launch the PU Gujar Khan/ Potohar Campus without adequate feasibility studies exemplifies the politically motivated decisions that prevail in the absence of strong academic leadership.

Universities are the bedrock of higher education, tasked with nurturing the intellectual growth of future leaders. The absence of permanent leadership hampers academic research and development, leading to a decline in educational standards and research output. This debacle could have been avoided through proactive planning and action. The caretaker set-up’s failure in the matter underscores a lack of commitment to the educational sector’s stability and growth. It is imperative for the new administrations to prioritise the appointment of qualified individuals to these critical positions. All stakeholders involved must reaffirm their commitment to education and ensure that such lapses do not further jeopardise the nation’s academia and global competitiveness.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2024

More slaughter

CONSIDERING Israel’s long list of barbaric acts in Gaza — bombing hospitals; wiping out families; mass starvation; parading semi-clothed prisoners, etc — Tel Aviv has set the bar quite ‘high’ where state-sponsored violence against defenceless civilians is concerned.

Yet, as this monstrous campaign of violence continues, Israel has proved that it is adept at inflicting even more cruelty on the Palestinians. An example of this was the slaughter in Gaza City on Thursday, as Palestinians had gathered to collect food aid. Israeli troops were accompanying the convoy of aid trucks, and butchered over 100 Gazans; desperate, hungry people who are living in hellish conditions.

Instead of showing concern — Tel Aviv is bereft of all compassion — Israeli troops mowed down these forsaken people as they sought to grab what they could to feed their families. As usual, Israeli spin doctors are obfuscating the facts behind the atrocity, with some saying the deaths were the result of ‘pushing and trampling’, while others blamed ‘Palestinian armed groups’ for killing their own people.

Media reports have debunked these doubtful claims, with some sources confirming that Israeli troops opened fire, while UN observers, who met survivors of the massacre, said that most of the injured suffered from gunshot wounds.

There has been global outrage over the latest Israeli atrocity. But will it translate to an end to Gaza’s nightmare, and a long-term ceasefire? The signs are not encouraging. The US president has said he will initiate aid air drops for Gaza. Perhaps the Palestinians would appreciate it more if Mr Biden stopped supplying American arms to his Israeli friends — weaponry that has been used to butcher over 30,000 Palestinians since Oct 7. Israel’s extremist leaders are on an apocalyptic mission to ethnically cleanse Gaza.

The least the Arab and Muslim states can do is to initiate a total economic blockade of Israel until it stops the slaughter. Perhaps they can take a cue from brave non-Muslim states such as South Africa, which has initiated genocide proceedings at the ICJ against Tel Aviv, or Brazil, which has recalled its ambassador.

On the other hand, many of the Muslim states that have established relations with Israel have refused to sever them, while the Zionist state sources much of its oil and gas from Muslim-majority states. Until these double standards end, the massacre in Palestine will continue.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2024

Little respite

IS inflation on its way out? The Consumer Price Index showed that inflation dropped to 23.1pc in February from 28.3pc the previous month, and 31.5pc a year ago, raising hopes. It is the lowest CPI reading recorded by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics in the last 20 months. Inflation peaked at 38pc last May. The PBS did not observe a month-over-month change in prices last month, reporting a broad-based decrease in the pace of price rise on account of falling food inflation, coupled with the high base effect of the last fiscal. The rates decreased in both the urban and rural areas, with core inflation, or non-food and non-energy inflation, also down from their higher levels. And yet, there will be little respite for households anytime soon, as overall price levels and the cost of living remain elevated.

Nevertheless, the drop in inflation seems to have encouraged some — such as a former finance minister, who called the reduction in the inflation rate “wonderful news” — to renew calls for early rate cuts to “reduce government deficit and also provide a much-needed respite to industry and consumers”. The calls for rate cuts are based on the assumption that the pace of increase in the prices of goods and services will slow down further over the next several months due to a high base effect, falling demand, easing of supply constraints and plunging global commodity rates. It means that if the trend witnessed last month holds, we should expect the State Bank to start monetary easing soon. However, the inflation outlook still faces risks that include a further increase in domestic energy prices, food supply shocks and an upswing in international commodity prices due to the geopolitics of the Middle East. Hence, inflation expectations remain elevated, despite recent improvements. On top of that, consumers must brace themselves for Ramazan inflation. Therefore, it might be too early to expect the State Bank to start to decrease borrowing costs.

A rate cut without a consistent drop in inflation might also not sit well with the IMF whose support is crucial for stabilising Pakistan’s external sector. We are also not aware if the IMF agrees to a new extended programme — and how quickly. What is certain is that any new programme will be accompanied by more stringent conditions. A report in a local paper claims that the IMF has advised the FBR to significantly increase the income tax burden for both salaried and non-salaried segments and tax the contribution of private employers to their workers’ pension fund, thus enabling the FBR to collect additional revenue. The proposal does not take into account the burden of inflation on the salaried classes. If implemented, this could prove to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2024


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