Dawn Editorial 8th September 2023

‘India that is Bharat’

A CURIOUS controversy has stalked India ever since the G20 leaders were sent dinner invitations from the president of Bharat, instead of the usual president of India. Two names were given to the country by the framers of India’s constitution. Article 1 of the constitution speaks of “India, that is Bharat”. Nehru made a reference to Bharat in his Discovery of India, a seminal book on the history of the new nation in the making. He wrote in prison. “Often, as I wandered from meeting to meeting, I spoke to my audience of this India of ours, of Hindustan and of Bharata, the old Sanskrit name derived from the mythical founder of the race.” Ace historian Irfan Habib says the idea of ‘Bharat Mata’ is a European import as is ‘maadar-i-watan’. He says ‘Bharat’ was used as a name in Prakrit script for his country in the first-century BC by the king of Kalinga. Hindu revivalists used ‘Hindustan’, ie, place of Hindus. “Hindustan is the land of the Hindus and is the terra firma for the Hindu nation alone to flourish upon”. Thus proclaimed Guru Golwalkar of the RSS in 1939. The RSS was in the company of the first Mughal Emperor Babar who it reviles with little evidence as the destroyer of a temple in Ayodhya. “Hindustan is a country of few charms,” Babar noted in his lauded memoirs.

In recent years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been promoting a new industrial policy he calls, ‘Make in India’. Above all, his government told the Indian supreme court in 2015 in an affidavit that there was no need to change the name of the country from India to ‘Bharat’. So, what has happened now? There’s speculation that the opposition’s new collective name, INDIA, the acronym for the Indian National Inclusive Development Alliance, is worrying the government ahead of the general elections in May.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2023

Chitral incursion

TWO cross-border infiltration attempts by militants, as well as tensions at the Torkham frontier, point to the disturbing reality that both on the security front and where bilateral ties are concerned, Pak-Afghan relations are going through a highly dysfunctional phase.

Though bilateral ties with Kabul have never been tension-free, some within our ruling structure had great expectations that an Afghan Taliban dispensation across the western border would benefit Pakistan. That has not been the case.

Perhaps the most disturbing of the aforesaid incidents was the militant incursion in Chitral on Wednesday. At least four troops were martyred when a “large group of terrorists”, as per ISPR, crossed over from the Afghan side and attacked two Pakistani positions.

Though the military’s media wing has not mentioned the number of attackers, some foreign outlets have said ‘hundreds’ of terrorists belonging to the banned TTP were involved. Intelligence reports had been circling for some time, indicating that a cross-border attack was imminent.

In the second incident, several militants were killed when they tried to infiltrate North Waziristan and were repulsed by security forces. Meanwhile, the situation remained tense on Thursday at the Torkham border crossing after Pakistani and Afghan security men traded fire a day earlier. The dispute emerged after the Afghan side reportedly started work on building a checkpoint in the vicinity.

Though TTP activity has been observed in several parts of KP and northern Balochistan, Chitral has not been known as a hotbed of militancy. This indicates that terrorists are feeling confident enough to extend their area of activity, which should set off alarm bells.

As for the trouble at Torkham, this is not the first time personnel from both sides have been involved in violent exchanges; sadly, several such encounters have occurred this year alone.

It is clear that effective mechanisms need to be put in place so that officials can swiftly contact their Afghan counterparts at higher levels and prevent misunderstandings from spiralling into violent exchanges.

Meanwhile, the interim administration and security establishment should realise that the TTP is arguably amongst the gravest threats facing the country at the moment, and while the issue needs to be pursued with the Afghan Taliban, all the state’s efforts need to be concentrated on preventing this outfit from making further inroads into the country, and on neutralising or expelling the militants.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2023

Waking up

SIX hundred billion rupees is not pocket change; not for a country stumbling from one crisis to another as it tries to keep ahead of a possible default.

In a responsible government’s hands, such a sum could be utilised for immense public good, such as funding hospitals, establishing schools, creating roads or, simply, paying off national debt.

Yet, if our caretakers are to be believed, this is the ballpark figure for annual theft and recovery losses in the country’s power sector.

Just the scale of it makes it seem like the ultimate scam: how else does one describe some groups of people being allowed for years to consume electricity worth hundreds of billions for free, while the government subsidised this theft either with public funds or by burdening honest citizens with higher costs to pay for others’ misdoings.

As long as the government was picking up most of the tab, few were bothered. Now that the burden has started shifting to the public, the inflation-weary are asking difficult questions, which the authorities are struggling to answer.

The caretaker government on Wednesday blamed the “jet-black integrity” of some officers in the power distribution network, as well as the politicised management of power distribution companies, for facilitating this daylight robbery of public resources.

It was a rather incriminating statement to make. The citizenry has a right to know why nothing was ever done to bring such elements to book, especially when hundreds of billions of rupees in losses were being recorded.

The government has finally resolved to go after the parasitic elements in the power distribution network, and it is hoped that there will be no further delay in securing results.

Meanwhile, it is also promising a three-pronged strategy to minimise theft and recovery losses, which includes mobilising the police and administration to launch a crackdown in high-theft areas. All of these look good on paper, but their efficacy can only be gauged once there are results to discuss.

It must be highlighted that it will not be easy to overhaul the power sector’s recoveries in a short period. The availability of ‘free’ electricity has likely created significant distortions in local economies where theft and refusal to pay are endemic.

The sudden imposition of high electricity bills in these areas during what is an already fraught economic climate will, therefore, cause considerable upheaval, and police alone may not be able to contain the resulting social fallout.

However, this cannot be the reason to keep putting off the exercise. Theft and recovery losses have grown to the hundreds of billions because successive governments kept kicking the can down the road.

The authorities must now ensure that bill-payers will no longer be cheated out of their hard-earned money by unscrupulous elements.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2023

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