Dawn Editorial 7 December 2019

Test for parliament

WHILE Pakistani politicians are sometimes selectively targeted, the task of strengthening a central pillar of democracy belongs to them and to no one else. It is in their hands to make the Election Commission of Pakistan functional again.
With the retirement of the chief election commissioner, retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza, on Thursday, the ECP has become non-functional. Many fundamental ECP activities stand suspended, among them the scrutiny of funding for political parties.
The situation is not helped by the fact that the ECP was already two members short of its mandated strength. The nomination of these two members had been a bone of contention between the treasury and opposition, and the government’s attempt at resolving the problem via a presidential order was thwarted by Mr Raza himself. He declared the presidential action illegal, thus casting serious doubts on the government’s motives; tensions that already existed between the two sides were exacerbated.
Since then, both the government and opposition have proposed individuals of their choice for the post of the ECP chairman as also for the Sindh and Balochistan vacancies.
The chief judge of the Islamabad High Court, while hearing a petition, has [expressed][2] confidence in the ability of parliament to resolve this problem. Yet concerns remain, not the least serious of which is caused by the dynastic nature of parties where all decisions have to be taken by one or two people at the top. It is far from an ideal state of affairs: one party supremo is expected to set the direction from his hospital bed, while the parliamentary opposition leader has to take time out from tending to his ailing leader and elder brother to scrutinise a long list of people who could, on merit, make it to the ECP. Also problematic is the acrimonious attitude of the ruling party whose chief is trained to view all opponents as worthless and corrupt.
This is by no means an easy affair.
Picking an ECP chairman and two commission members requires negotiating skills of the highest order. It is all the more difficult to build consensus in a country polarised along so many lines.
Parallel to the intra-politicians fight, there is an ongoing battle where the politicians as an interest group are pitted against those who condemn them en masse as useless, selfish individuals who are unable to overcome their differences, ranging from petty considerations to matters of ideology.
The politicians as a whole seeking vindication of their role have to close ranks to prove that their journey on the path to true, unhindered democracy has not been without dividends.
They must jointly and with the requisite dignity resolve this issue of ECP membership without further delay. The fights amongst themselves can wait for another day.


Digital Pakistan

DIGITAL technology is reshaping the world rapidly. It is transforming everything — from the way governments and citizens interact to how markets behave and consumers shop and pay their bills. It is boosting industrial and agricultural productivity across the globe, revolutionising healthcare and education, and enabling smart young men and women with little cash in their pockets to create billion-dollar companies. New technology is also changing itself very rapidly while disrupting economies and businesses. Economists and policymakers agree that digitisation helps an economy grow quickly, improves the business environment, creates jobs and alleviates poverty much faster than the ones that choose not to embrace it. So, it is sad to note that Pakistan has failed to adopt digital technology the way it should have and keep pace with its advancement. As countries such as Bangladesh are digitising their economies to fuel innovation, growth and jobs, we are still struggling with slow, patchy internet connectivity and a poor digital infrastructure. Our young entrepreneurs are finding it hard to access the funds required for business growth or to do business with the rest of the world. Attempts made by successive governments to push digitisation of the economy have mostly been erratic and have lacked direction. Against this background the Digital Pakistan initiative launched on Thursday by Prime Minister Imran Khan has raised some hope that the government has at last decided to make a concerted effort to promote digital technology in the country.
The initiative “sets Pakistan’s digital ambition” and is “designed both for the government and private sector to work towards a digitally progressive and inclusive Pakistan” by enhancing connectivity, improving digital infrastructure, investing in digital skills and literacy, and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. It is a good sign that the push for the initiative is marked by a commitment by the young and energetic to see it through. This aspect generates expectations and makes the digital future of Pakistan all the more worth looking forward to. Nevertheless, it will be a mistake to expect a change overnight. It is going to be a long run. For digital technology to create an impact on economic development, we will first require consistent efforts and political commitment, substantial investment in infrastructure and appropriate policies to catch up with the rest of the world. We have the ingredients to create a digital ecosystem and make this change happen. The question, in the words of Tania Aidrus, who will lead the initiative, is, how quickly can we begin?


Curbing measles

THE damaging effects of the anti-vaxxing community’s propaganda are being felt around the world as WHO has raised the alarm over the surge in measles cases in many countries. WHO says that nearly 10m people globally were affected by measles in 2018, while around 140,000 children died from it. The problem only seems to be worsening with time as the data for 2019, until last month, revealed a three-fold increase for the number of cases, as compared to the corresponding period in 2018. The pandemic has been aptly described by the WHO director general as “an outrage”; he said that the spread of a vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles reflected the world’s “collective failure” to protect vulnerable children. This warning should alert Pakistani health authorities since the highly infectious disease makes a deadly comeback every few years in the country. In 2017, there were 6,494 confirmed measles cases in Pakistan, according to WHO; this figure accounted for more than 65pc of the total number of cases in the Eastern Mediterranean region comprising 22 countries. Around 130 children died from measles in 2017 while the number surged to nearly 300 in the first eight months of 2018, after which the government decided to launch a countrywide immunisation drive. The poor coverage of routine immunisation in Pakistan — which remains around 50pc at best when for infectious diseases it should be at least 90pc — combined with other factors such as rampant malnutrition in children under five, could render another major outbreak of this infectious virus in the country quite dangerous.
On the other hand, in Pakistan too, anti-vaccination propaganda has marred polio drives over many years, and more recently, the immunisation programme for XDR-typhoid in Sindh, making it all the more difficult to curtail the spread of illnesses. The measles virus is highly infectious and tends to linger on surfaces or in the air, putting every unvaccinated person at risk. If not nipped in the bud, a measles outbreak could spell disaster for our already stretched healthcare system.


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