Dawn Editorial 5 February 2021

Kashmir Day

THE people of Pakistan and those of the liberated part of what is one of the world’s most enchanting lands are observing Kashmir Day today. Indeed, it goes far beyond an annual ritual; it is aimed at drawing the world’s attention to the worsening human rights situation in the illegally occupied territory and the danger inherent in India’s intransigence. As Pakistan has repeatedly pointed out, Kashmir is not a piece of real estate about which there is an ownership dispute, but an issue of self-determination — the right of a people to shape their own destiny. Unfortunately, mentioning the very word ‘Kashmir’ to India is like showing the proverbial red rag to the bull, even though it was India which had taken the issue to the UN as a complainant. Yet it is astonishing that the aggrieved party doesn’t want justice done and blocks every move to have the issue settled. Ironically, India is on record as having accepted various Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir and having told the world that it would accept the Kashmiri people’s verdict. Those who gave these solemn pledges to the British prime minister of the day, to the UN, and to the people of Kashmir were those who mattered, including India’s first governor general, Lord Mountbatten, and its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet, subsequently India had no qualms about repudiating those pledges and using every trick in the book to try and gobble up the disputed territory.
The assumption of power by Narendra Modi with his Hindutva ideology has turned India-held Kashmir into a tinderbox that can explode any time. His government’s most perverse action was on Aug 5, 2019, when it abolished the occupied territory’s special status, took a leaf out of Israel’s book and changed the nationality law allowing non-Kashmiris to settle in the territory in a criminal bid to alter the valley’s demographic character. This was followed by the brutal repression of protests by the justifiably angered Kashmiri people and the gross human rights violations which have drawn world censure. India should realise a people cannot be kept in bondage forever and that the unsolved Kashmir issue can push South Asia into a devastating war. This day should also make Pakistani politicians wake up to the overriding need for unity by keeping political differences between the opposition and government within the limits of decency and democratic ethics.



Solar health units

IN a laudable decision, the Punjab government has decided to run all Basic Health Units on solar energy. At a signing ceremony in Lahore, the provincial government’s health minister, Dr Yasmin Rashid, told reporters that BHUs in Sargodha, Jhelum and Mandi Bahauddin would be converted to solar to eventually be followed up by all other BHUs around the province. The project will not only save money in the long run for the health department by reducing their power bills, but also aid in providing continuous power to the BHUs. But more importantly, it is a step in the right direction to catalyse the solar revolution in Pakistan that is still slow in taking off compared to the rest of the world.
Government departments can play a critical role in pushing the solar revolution along by shifting their own consumption to renewable, point-of-consumption sources. This will not only create more demand for solar technology in the country, but also provide an impetus to others to follow. Every new solar installation, especially in a location where it enjoys high public visibility, has a demonstration effect and plays a role in helping to mainstream solar power in the eyes of the public. Other government departments in Punjab, as well as the other provinces, should follow suit and shift more and more of their premises towards solar technology like the health department in Punjab has done. Eventually, the provincial assemblies can also be shifted to solar, and provincial regulations could be designed to encourage fuel pumps to introduce the technology on their premises too. These kinds of initiatives will help power the solar revolution in critical ways. Since many of these departments work mostly during daylight hours it makes their transition to solar more viable. Commercial and government establishments have to lead the way in pushing this revolution along in Pakistan, and the Punjab government has shown the way forward with this initiative.



Senate polls

THE government has tabled a bill in the National Assembly to change the voting mechanism in the Senate elections from secret to open balloting but the opposition has blocked voting on the bill in this session. The government on Wednesday presented the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill which also seeks to give dual nationals the right to contest elections.
The bill elicited a strong reaction from the opposition benches and the proceedings of the Assembly on Wednesday and Thursday were marred by fracas, sloganeering and pandemonium. Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated in the past also that Senate elections should have open voting so that corruption is eliminated from the process. One example of senators voting against their parties was witnessed in the no-confidence vote against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. The vote was defeated even though the opposition had a clear majority. It is an open secret that candidates for the upper house have to spend huge amounts of money to buy votes from members of the provincial assemblies who constitute their electoral college.
It is the responsibility of all political parties to bring about reforms that can eliminate this practice of vote buying in the Senate. However, the way that the government has gone about doing this is unfortunate. It has launched parallel initiatives in the Supreme Court as well as parliament to change the system of voting without making a substantive effort to build a consensus on this reform. The Supreme Court is hearing the case and has yet to issue a verdict. It is strange that without waiting for the court to announce a judgement, the government tried to get a vote in the National Assembly. In addition, the government knew fully well that it did not have the numbers to push through a constitutional amendment.
This is why this entire exercise appears geared towards gaining political mileage by pointing out that the opposition does not want to legislate on reform which, the government feels, can eliminate corruption in the Senate electoral process. By needlessly politicising the issue, the government has wasted an opportunity to bring about legislation through a detailed process of debate, discussion and consensus. Whenever optics take the place of genuine objectives, the outcome is always disappointing.

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