Keeping Kartarpur open
FOLLOWING the latest round of talks in Atari, Pakistan’s announcement on Wednesday that it was ready to open the Kartarpur Corridor in November is in keeping with its preferred route of engagement with India. It is now the other side’s responsibility to fulfil its end of the bargain and realise the agreement struck between the two countries to create the corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. Pakistan has also committed to hosting 5,000 pilgrims or more daily at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal, which this Kartarpur stretch will link with India. The access will be without visa “to pilgrims of all faiths, seven days a week, throughout the year”, says a statement by the Foreign Office. Taking a break from war rhetoric, provided that India demonstrates the same willingness as Pakistan, the two appear poised to enter a new (as well as return to a bygone) era of people-to-people contact, with Sikh pilgrims being allowed travel across the corridor, only needing to be issued an identification card issued by the authorities on side of the border.
The movement along the Kartarpur Corridor is significant in that it reflects Pakistan’s consistent position of pushing for dialogue between its leadership and those who must make decisions on the behalf of the Indian people. It is not difficult to understand why, in recent times, this offer for dialogue may have been replaced with a sterner tone in reaction to India’s refusal to hold talks over Kashmir. And, surely, this does not represent a departure from the principle that places faith in humanity and its ability to find a joint solution without having to come to blows. Pakistan’s leadership has clearly called out Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his associates over their aggressive posturing. And it has also made clear that it is alert to any kind of danger posed to it without losing its balance, and without irrationally allowing it to be taken hostage by the hoarse cries of war.
The Pakistani delegation’s handling of the Kartarpur Corridor in the recent round of talks, even at a time of serious bilateral tensions, signified both maturity and candidness. Earlier this week, Pakistan lifted a ban on import of medicines and raw material from India to prevent a shortage of crucial drugs, even as a general bar on bilateral trade remained effective. The exemption was given “in the best interest of the public”. The same mature and confident approach by Pakistan may be required in dealing with other aspects of the bilateral relationship — for instance, resumption of the bus service in order to benefit families divided across the border. It displays an openness that, along with bringing other positives, will best serve the country’s image internationally.
THE inflation data just released may evoke a sense of comfort at first glance — but, when examined more carefully, one realises that what is actually being shown is a sharp jump in prices in the month of August. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index came in at 10.5pc in the last month. In the month of July, the same figure was reported as 10.3pc, which means the increase in prices is high, but appears to be stabilising. But a closer look reveals that the method by which the PBS calculates the data has been changed between July and August, and what appears to be a plateauing in the rate of inflation from one month to the next is, in fact, a sharp increase. As per the new methodology, July’s CPI inflation ought to have been 8.4pc, which means a sharp increase in prices between the two months.
The new method for calculating the CPI is a few years in the making. The CPI will now be based on price statistics from FY2016, instead of the base year that was currently being used, which was FY2008. It will now also reflect prices from rural areas, whereas up until now it was largely reflecting prices in urban areas, albeit a large number of towns and cities were part of its coverage area. Very importantly, the weightage assigned to certain price categories has been changed, and some of these changes make little sense. For example, the largest increase in weightage is in prices of hotels and restaraunts, while the largest decrease is in housing, electricity, gas and other fuels. It is difficult to imagine how the former is more important to people than the latter, so perhaps the PBS or whoever is involved with devising these changes ought to provide an explanation of how they are justified. This is especially important given that the changes have played some role in mitigating the inflation number. The impression is being created that grounds for a cut in the discount rate now exist. But even the new methodology shows rising underlying demand pressures in the economy, and unless the next data release in October shows these to be plateauing, it will be interesting to see if the State Bank will attempt to justify a rate cut given its pronouncements on the subject thus far.
Misbah’s dual role
FORMER captain Misbahul Haq’s recent appointment as the national cricket team’s head coach-cum-chief selector, though widely welcomed in cricketing circles, is perhaps the veteran player’s stiffest challenge yet.
Misbah, who enjoys an impeccable reputation and wields tremendous authority in Pakistan cricket, has been hailed as the best choice for the key post after the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to part ways with South African coach Mickey Arthur following the lacklustre World Cup campaign.
Challenges are not new to battle-hardened Misbah, who fought his way into the national team in 2001 and rose to become its most successful captain.
Handed the reins of the team soon after the nasty 2010 spot-fixing scam tarnished the country’s cricket image, Misbah helped the team regroup and rebuild in a brilliant fashion.
The former captain has expressed his resolve to bring professionalism back to the ranks of the national team, in both performance as well as physical fitness of the players.
However, with no prior experience in either coaching or selection matters, it is a new beginning for Misbah by all counts. Both are controversy-prone jobs given the erratic ways of Pakistan cricket.
Some former players have expressed reservations about how Misbah being saddled with two full-time duties could eventually prove to be his undoing — an argument that holds weight.
Given his temperament and his adeptness with the modern-day game, Misbah is likely to enjoy the best of relations with whoever is leading the team.
However, there is a very fine line between how the two protagonists need to act; the coach is at best peripheral, largely managing off-the-field affairs, devising strategy, sorting problems, boosting confidence, etc.
How cricket is played in the middle, though, is the sole prerogative of the captain — and it is here that Misbah needs to be discreet as chief selector.
He should always be seen as a consultant and not an ‘interfering influence’ by the captain, or else either of the two might be shown the door sooner rather than later.