STABILITY has been a rare commodity in modern Iraq, with wars, foreign invasions and internal strife standing in the way of national progress.
In fact, in the post-Ottoman period, apart from brief patches of normalcy, the story of Iraq has largely been one of unstable governments, military coups and — especially in the recent past — foreign meddling and bungled nation-building efforts.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the American invasion of 2003, Iraq has failed to see good governance and an improved standard of living for its people, despite its considerable oil income.
It is these factors — bad governance, unemployment, corruption — that have apparently fuelled the ongoing protests in various Iraqi cities.
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As per media reports, over 100 people have been killed over the past week in the disturbances, as security forces have taken on the protesters, reportedly firing live rounds at crowds.
Read: Protesters flood Iraq streets anew as death toll nears 100
There is a growing chorus for the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s government, which has been in power for barely a year. Though the Iraqi premier has scrambled to respond to the protests, the next few days will show whether or not the government has taken enough measures to placate the demonstrators.
There is a dire need to end the violence and restore calm before the protests further destabilise what is already a fragile country.
Sectarian and ethnic troubles are never far from the surface in Iraq, and demonstrations can take on ugly communal colours if not handled with tact and statesmanship.
In fact, the perceived mistreatment of the Sunni community in Iraq was one of the reasons that led to the growth of the militant Islamic State group, while Kurdish-Arab relations have been lukewarm even in the best of times.
Moreover, many of the protesters have raised anti-Iran slogans, recalling the spectre of Arab-Persian rivalry.
Considering these fault lines, the Iraqi government, religious leaders and tribal elders must all play their part to restore calm and ensure the protesters’ genuine demands are not exploited by vested interests to create chaos.
Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people are headed for Karbala, including many foreigners, to observe Arbaeen in the days ahead. Therefore, the restoration of security must be a primary concern for the administration to ensure the event is marked peacefully.
In the long term, only good governance can bring stability to Iraq.
While it is true that Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, the long war with Iran, America’s invasion, and IS atrocities have all taken their toll on Iraq, it is time for the country’s political class to rise up and deliver the goods to their people.
A corruption-free system that ensures fundamental rights for all regardless of communal background can improve matters. However, if more of the same cronyism and instability continues, the implosion of a nation that for centuries was the centre of Islamic and Arab civilisation is an unfortunate possibility.
A step forward
THE Supreme Court’s decision to constitute a special bench for the implementation of its landmark 2014 verdict on the protection of the fundamental and religious rights of minority communities in Pakistan, is commendable — even if it has come five years late. The bench has been tasked with ensuring compliance of the detailed 32-page judgement written by former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani at the conclusion of a suo motu case pertaining to the 2013 Peshawar church bombing. Hopefully, the constitution of this bench will expedite the federal and provincial governments’ implementation of other recommendations in the judgement — one of the most significant works of jurisprudence on the protection of rights and religious freedoms of minority groups in Pakistan. The special bench will also be free to hear complaints regarding the violation of minorities’ rights, thereby opening up a channel for the resolution of their problems that have largely been drowned out in the cacophony of religious rhetoric.
The 2014 judgement provided a roadmap for critical course correction by giving clear direction to the federal and provincial governments to take action under the existing laws to protect the rights of minorities, besides broadening the purview of religious freedom against the backdrop of international human rights laws, which some quarters deride as a ‘Western’ concept. The verdict underscored the need for promoting a culture of social and religious tolerance, and provided eight wide-ranging recommendations, including prompt registration of criminal cases against those who desecrate places of worship; setting up of a special police force to protect places of worship; taking action against people who initiate or spread hate speech on social media; and amending school and college curricula to help promote religious tolerance. But as is often the case in Pakistan, if any action was taken, it was inadequate, much to the concern of religious minority groups in Pakistan. Their worries have not been misplaced, as the church attacks in Lahore (2015) and Quetta (2017), and the mob violence in Mirpurkhas and Ghotki this year, later demonstrated. It is ironic that a country founded on the principle of religious freedom as enunciated by the Quaid has done so little to protect the minority groups residing within its boundaries. Every citizen must be equally free in the eyes of the state, irrespective of his or her religious beliefs.
THE news of 18 vaping-related deaths in the US comes as a shock to many — particularly those who had switched to vaping as the ‘somewhat healthier’ alternative to cigarette smoking. Along with these deaths, there have been over 1,000 cases of respiratory illness (the symptoms reportedly include shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue) that health authorities suspect to be linked to vaping in over 1,000 patients across the US since June. As investigations are under way, the cause of the sudden illness has not been confirmed yet. But health authorities strongly suspect it is linked to vaping. The first suspected vaping-related death took place in August.
Vaping has been growing in popularity as the less toxic alternative to cigarette smoking at a time when there is a cultural shift in public perceptions around the latter habit in the US. However, prior to the deaths, there had been warnings and concerns raised about the ‘social acceptability’ of vaping, particularly among younger demographics, in the absence of any long-term clinical tests done to determine the harmful effect of such products. In 2008, the WHO had warned marketers not to market e-cigarettes as an alternative to cigarette smoking. Until tests are conducted, it would be considered deception and playing with the public’s health. Several states in the US have now placed a ban or restrictions on certain vaping products and e-cigarettes in reaction to what some are describing as a ‘health emergency’. Many other countries have also banned or placed restrictions on the use, sale or import of e-cigarettes, or the nicotine-containing liquid; they include India, Mexico, Thailand, Qatar, and many others. In Pakistan, the vaping trend never caught on on a large scale due to the heavy price tag attached to vaping devices, compared to the much cheaper price tag on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. However, at least until more information can be provided and clinical tests carried out, there should be strict restrictions on vaping and vaping products in Pakistan.