Dawn Editorial 8 November 2020

A new beginning

THE American people have made their decision. Joseph R. Biden will be the next president of the United States of America and Kamala Harris will be the first woman vice president. The result was delivered after months of a high political drama that culminated in a chaotic election day and beyond, with Mr Biden slowly gaining the numbers to beat incumbent US President Donald Trump.
The election in America marked a historic turnout with an unprecedented number of votes — a reminder that democracy in the US is an ideal that its citizens hold dear. Ahead of his victory, Mr Biden sought to look beyond the election, and urged calm as President Trump remained in denial about the results and escalated tensions by alleging that polling in some states was “fraudulent”. With words that strove to unite rather than divide the country, the incoming president vowed to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind and “to unite, to heal, to come together as a nation”.
The time leading up to the election saw a polarised country — an indication of just how difficult the job ahead is for Mr Biden. He will be the president of a divided America, where citizens are reeling from myriad issues, including the highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the world, lockdown-induced joblessness, racial inequality, and limited access to affordable healthcare. To add to the challenge, President Trump is making dangerous attempts to cast doubt over the electoral process — allegations which even pro-Republican media outlets say he has little evidence of. Such chaos post-election has never before been witnessed in America, and is likely to incite Trump supporters. As Biden supporters celebrate, there are some cities bracing for riots.
No doubt, the last few years have marked a dark chapter in America’s history. But it is encouraging that Mr Biden in his first speech after the vote count began promised that “no one is going to take our democracy away from us”. In a message after the result was called, he vowed to “be a president for all Americans — whether you voted for me or not”.
While a Biden win is no revolution for America, it is certainly a sign that the days of chaotic, unpredictable and shocking presidential decisions are over. As the world battles the pandemic, grapples with a ‘new normal’ for the economy and contemplates the future of the planet, it is an uplifting thought that one of the most powerful and influential world leaders will be an individual whose decisions are grounded in principles.
Putting America’s house in order is no doubt important, but there are several other issues of global significance that also need immediate attention — the two key being the need for America to return to the Paris accord on environment and for the administration to join hands with European allies on the nuclear deal with Iran.



Covid-19 guidelines

THERE is no doubt any longer: the second wave is intensifying at an alarming pace. Punjab reported 352 new Covid-19 infections in the 24 hours preceding Saturday morning, the fifth straight day with 300-plus cases in the province. Islamabad reported 335 cases. In Sindh, 620 new Covid-19 cases emerged yesterday, 504 in Karachi alone, the highest number since July 29. Given this situation, it was not surprising that the National Command and Operation Centre on Friday issued fresh guidelines according to which indoor marriages are to be banned from Nov 20; not wearing a mask will attract a fine of Rs100; and work from home is allowed for 50pc staff of public and private institutions. The provinces have been asked to implement the new guidelines as per their own modus operandi. Thus Sindh, for instance, has imposed a Rs500 fine on anyone found not wearing a mask. The NCOC has also directed provinces to follow the policy of smart lockdowns in infection hotspots. While these measures overall are sensible and timely, one wonders at the logic of allowing wedding receptions at outdoor venues for a maximum of 1,000 guests which is a number far higher than that found at an average Pakistani wedding.
However, it is clear the authorities are taking the emerging threat very seriously. Unfortunately, the public appears to have become quite lackadaisical about observing SOPs, and many venues are adopting a relaxed approach to social distancing rules with hardly any masks in sight. For reasons not yet clear, Pakistan has thus far been very fortunate in escaping the kind of havoc that the coronavirus has wreaked in the West, and even next door in India with all the attendant economic pain such a scenario entails. That we have gotten off comparatively lightly may have engendered a certain complacency among the public, in some quarters even bolstered harebrained conspiracy theories about the entire issue being an elaborate hoax. After a somewhat halting and uneven start in February when the coronavirus first arrived in Pakistan, the setting up of the NCOC has led to more coordination between the provinces and the centre over how best to tackle this major challenge. That approach needs to continue for an effective response to what is once again a looming threat. The leadership must ensure consistent messaging through its actions in public to reinforce the importance of social distancing and wearing masks.



Women’s education

DISTURBING reports have emerged from Lower Dir regarding the possible reappearance of some extremist elements in the area. According to a report published in the media, a poster pasted outside the main gate of a women’s college in Samarbagh threatened students with death if they did not give up their pursuit of higher education. College officials attributed the poster to the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan that opposes women’s education, although the group distanced itself from it. However, while it is difficult to confirm the identity of the perpetrators in this case, the incident should cause concern, for it shows that, despite the military operations that defeated the TTP and others of its ilk in KP including former Fata, extremist elements — whether groups or individuals — still lurk in the area, seeking to sow fear among the people and retard progress. Condemning the incident is not enough and those responsible for people’s security should be extra vigilant at a time when reports of sporadic attempts to threaten the public are emerging in several areas. Other reports have also emanated from Lower Dir of how radical elements have been putting up posters in mosques and madressahs calling for ‘jihad’ and the implementation of their interpretation of the Sharia.
The education of girls has been particularly targeted in the past, with hundreds of schools either blown up or closed down by the TTP that strongly opposed women’s education and issued frequent warnings to those who dared to defy its diktat and go to school, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai being the most well-known victim of its nefarious designs. Years of education have been lost and the authorities should immediately take steps to counter the extremists’ influence so that they are prevented from staging a comeback. Clerics in the area should also be taken on board to oppose such regressive instincts. Any attack on women’s education is an attack on education as a whole; women are, after all, equal partners and stakeholders in the progress of a nation.


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