Dawn Editorial 8 June 2021

Opposition’s demand

PARLIAMENTARIANS belonging to the PPP have demanded that the government take parliament into confidence about the emerging regional situation in light of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Addressing a press conference, former deputy speaker of the National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi and Senator Rubina Khalid said there should be no closed-door meetings on the issue and that parliament should be fully briefed. The opposition alliance PDM has also called for an in-camera joint session of parliament on the Afghanistan issue. These demands have come in the wake of reports that the US may be asking Pakistan for use of facilities including bases for military use. Pakistan has categorically denied agreeing to any such requests and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said in no uncertain terms that as long as Imran Khan is the prime minister, Pakistan will never provide its territory for any US bases.
The situation in Afghanistan remains unstable as the peace talks between the US and Afghan Taliban have hit a roadblock. The intra-Afghan dialogue also appears to be a non-starter and violence is refusing to abate. Pakistan has played a central role in the peace process, including persuading the Taliban leadership to participate in it, and continues to urge all sides to agree to a power-sharing arrangement so that the country does not descend into chaos. However, officials in Islamabad have also voiced fears that if a civil war were to break out in Afghanistan once the US forces have withdrawn within their stipulated deadline, Pakistan could face adverse repercussions. In such an unsettled situation, it is important that the entire political leadership is brought into the loop as far as Pakistan’s policy options and decisions are concerned. The opposition is justified in demanding that the government and its concerned institutions provide a detailed briefing to parliament and allow them to provide recommendations and suggestions for all possible scenarios. One way could be for the concerned authorities to brief the relevant parliamentary committees. This could be followed by an open debate in both houses. The policy on Afghanistan needs to be well-deliberated and bipartisan in nature. We should learn from the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s and carve out a long-term approach to Afghanistan. The government has taken a sensible step in engaging all ethnic groups in Afghanistan as well as regional countries. It should follow the same approach towards parliament.



Another train tragedy

THE loss of over 40 lives in a train collision near Daharki in Sindh on Monday morning is a stark reminder of Pakistan Railways’ abysmal passenger safety record and the unfulfilled promises of successive governments to revamp its broken infrastructure. The accident also raises questions about the incumbent rulers’ commitment to modernising the poorly managed railway, and refurbish its aging tracks and erratic signal system for improving passenger safety.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that he was “shocked by the horrific train accident” and had ordered a “comprehensive investigation into railway safety fault line”. Is that enough? We have heard such words so many times before that they have lost their meaning. Everyone is well aware of why train accidents happen and what needs to be done. But no one in the government appears to be bothered about fixing the problems. It is, indeed, unfair to blame the current government for the huge mess the railway is in today. Yet, it should not escape scrutiny for its own contribution to PR’s decline by passing the entire buck to its predecessors.
In pictures: Another day, another train disaster in Pakistan
Pakistan has a long history of train accidents caused by a decaying railway infrastructure. Apart from major accidents, scores of minor incidents of derailments take place every year but are not mentioned in the news. Most of these accidents occur because of dilapidated tracks, a faulty interlocking signal system, aging rolling stocks, etc. A look at PR’s record would show that the frequency of accidents, including fatal ones, has increased over the last few years owing to decades of underinvestment in rail infrastructure and the absence of passenger safety standards. The prime minister has repeatedly instructed the railway authorities to take steps to counter decades of neglect and ensure safety protocols, and to hold officials responsible for neglecting passenger safety, but nothing has come of it. Instead, the government has drastically slashed funds for railway rehabilitation in the last couple of years. Last July, it had promised additional funds for repairing the tracks and signal system, and purchasing new passenger coaches and locomotives this fiscal year. But the promise remains unfulfilled.
Political rhetoric aside, the administration appears as clueless about a revival strategy as any previous government. Apparently, it has been hoping that the promised Chinese investment of $6bn in the Main Line-1, connecting Peshawar to Karachi, would save the dying railway. With China reluctant to invest its money in the project, the government does not have a strategy to fall back on to resuscitate the bankrupt department. With or without Chinese money, the job of putting the railway back on track will not be easy; it will take a long time, large investments and strong political will. Turning a company the size of Pakistan Railways is never easy. However, the government can always start by investing in the rehabilitation of the infrastructure to save lives.



Sindh-centre sniping

A WAR of words between the centre and the Sindh government has been underway for the past several days, with both sides accusing each other of doing nothing for the province. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had written to the prime minister accusing the PTI-led federal government of harbouring “abject bias” against the province, while also criticising the proposed PSDP allocations as “lopsided”. Planning Minister Asad Umar hit back at the Sindh administration, claiming that “never before has any federal government in history … spent so much money in Sindh”, while adding that the centre had earmarked funds for both the urban and rural parts of the province.
This testy exchange between the centre and the province would actually have been quite amusing for the people of Sindh had the situation on the ground not been so pathetic. The fact is that neither Islamabad nor the PPP-led provincial administration has done anything worthwhile for Sindh, as the infrastructure of the province’s rural and urban parts crumbles. The federal government has announced grandiose schemes for Karachi and other districts. But what has practically been done? Take the Green Line bus scheme. The federally funded transport project that kicked off in 2016 has yet to see the light of day as deadlines for its inauguration keep getting pushed back indefinitely. On the other hand, the Sindh government is also prone to announcing seemingly impressive schemes, often with funding from foreign lenders. Yet after nearly 13 years of post-Musharraf rule over the province, can the PPP in all honesty claim that it has brought positive changes to Sindh? Karachi, the provincial capital, is in an advanced state of disrepair, while even in the ‘interior’ of the province — which happens to be the PPP’s stronghold — health, education and civic facilities are in an extremely poor state. The fact is that instead of politicking, both the centre and Sindh government need to get down to the serious work of revamping the province’s infrastructure and civic services.


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