Dawn Editorial 8th August 2023

Cricketing ties

IDEALLY, sporting ties should not be held hostage by politics, but this is rarely the case in practice, as geopolitics and sport often intertwine. And when sporting showdowns involve Pakistan and India, politics is never far behind. The fact is that poor relations between both states have affected bilateral sporting ties, particularly cricket exchanges. In this context, it is a welcome development that the government has decided to allow the Pakistan cricket team to travel to India to participate in the ODI World Cup scheduled to begin in October. Yet, in the same breath, the Foreign Office expressed “deep concerns” about the men in green’s safety in India both to the ICC and the Indian authorities. Though the two have met at multinational tournaments over the past few years, Pakistan and India have not played a bilateral series for over a decade. India also decided not to play matches in Pakistan during this year’s Asia Cup, which begins at the end of this month, choosing, instead, to play Pakistan at Sri Lankan venues.

Bilateral cricketing ties have witnessed several highs and lows since independence. During times of tension, the two countries have avoided playing each other for long periods, though it is also true that ‘cricket diplomacy’ was used by the rulers to improve ties. Gens Zia and Musharraf made particular use of this sort of diplomacy, while civilian leaders also used cricket to mend ties with their Indian counterparts. Unfortunately, extremists in India have made things difficult for the Pakistan team. The Shiv Sena dug up the field at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla in 1999 to prevent Pakistan from playing. Fully-fledged bilateral sporting ties should resume between both sides, though foolproof security must be ensured for Pakistanis playing in India, starting with the cricket team. Sports exchanges can help reduce tensions in the subcontinent, as cricket’s big guns put on a display of their prowess on the field.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2023

What’s the hurry?

THE message that has been broadcast from Islamabad in recent days is troubling. Even as political historians, legal experts, and rights activists cried themselves hoarse, warning legislators not to make what most observers fear will prove to be catastrophic mistakes, neither the Senate nor the National Assembly have displayed much interest in listening to reason and good sense. In both Houses, lawmakers have voted in haste to pass problematic legislation ahead of the impending dissolution of the incumbent government. One such piece of legislation was the bill quietly introduced last week to amend the Official Secrets Act. In it were provisions that would have given intelligence agencies immunity and legal cover for several practices that are violative of human rights and that have been roundly denounced in the past. The bill quickly sailed through the National Assembly before its details were brought to public attention. After widespread outcry and condemnation, which saw some of the more level-headed among our senators demand greater scrutiny of the text of the bill originally passed and to hold it till it had been appropriately debated and discussed, the government seems to have made some significant revisions. On Sunday, this updated bill was approved by the Upper House. However, the fact that it continued to be hotly contested on the Senate floor even after it was passed suggests that the revision process had not been followed in true spirit. The bill was subsequently returned to the Lower House, where the amendments suggested were also passed without the usual debate and deliberation. Only the president now stands in the way of the bill becoming an act of parliament. It is hoped that he will return it for further reconsideration, if needed, instead of simply acting as a rubber stamp.

The PTI era saw parliament rendered irrelevant while the government executed its legislative agenda through ordinances. Whatever hope there was that its follies would not be repeated by the more ‘mature’ parties has long since been lost. What we have recently seen is parliament undermining itself, and the legislative process being misused to take more and more power away from the public representatives entrusted with exercising it. This is deeply problematic, as legislative power is a trust reposed by the public in the representatives they send to parliament. It should never be exercised without adequate transparency and accountability.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2023

Rail tragedy

THE terrible train accident near Nawabshah that killed over 30 passengers of the Hazara Express and left dozens injured on Sunday was a tragedy waiting to happen. There is always an air of resignation when a train accident occurs in Pakistan.

Each incident is followed by routine announcements of an inquiry and, in the case of major accidents, cash compensation for families who have lost their loved ones or passengers who sustained injuries. The death toll is reduced to mere numbers and the inquiry consigned to the railway junkyard.

Train derailments happen frequently on Pakistan’s poorly maintained railway lines, especially on the stretch between Khanpur and Karachi. More than 250 people have died and several hundred wounded in major train derailments, collisions and fires in the last 10 years. It is not only the train tracks that are covered in blood; those who have wilfully neglected the railways also have blood on their hands.

One can hardly recall the government making any inquiry public or punishing those responsible for these tragedies. The latest tragedy is yet another grim reminder of the multiple challenges the government faces in even maintaining and repairing the country’s dilapidated railway infrastructure let alone modernising it and expanding rail services.

Shortly after the accident, railway and aviation minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said the possibility of sabotage or a mechanical fault could not be ruled out. The “root cause” of the accident would have to be investigated, he added. Some railway officials blamed the derailment of the Rawalpindi-bound Hazara Express on the breakage of the railway line and hot axle issue, which jammed movement.

Yesterday, the minister termed the lack of resources as the “real cause” of the tragedy. In fact, that is the single-most important reason for the current state of the railway infrastructure between Peshawar and Karachi. For example, the railway department had requested Rs30bn in 2021 for the rehabilitation of the 470km-long track between Khanpur and Kotri where the most fatal accidents have occurred in recent years.

However, both the PTI and PDM governments delayed approval, citing it as “unnecessary” due to the planned $9bn ML-1 project under the CPEC initiative. That shows government does not really care about the life of the rail passengers because the overwhelming majority comes from the lower income groups of the population.

No wonder whenever a railway minister talks about turning railways around, they are concerned about the profitability of its operations rather than the safety of the passengers. The railway department cannot be turned into a profitable entity without investment in its infrastructure to ensure safe travel for its users. The ML-1 project is crucial to modernising the railway system. But the safety of the passengers is paramount, with or without it.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2023

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