Mixed signals from Taliban
THE business of negotiating peace — especially in a theatre as complex as Afghanistan — is not easy.
While at times it appears that the Afghan peace process is on its way to a resolution, at others it seems as if there are miles to go before stability and calm can be achieved.
This is especially true whenever there is violence in the war-torn country, such as Saturday’s horrific blast at a wedding hall in Kabul that killed over 60 people.
However, while talking to this paper recently, Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan Taliban’s chief spokesperson, indicated that all is not lost where the peace process with the Americans is concerned.
In fact, he spoke in optimistic tones, saying that “90pc” of issues between the Talibs and the Americans had been resolved.
The spokesperson was responding to a question regarding reports that the latest round of negotiations had broken down.
He added that some “technical issues” remained, and that the talks were only suspended for “consultations”.
Interestingly, in his Eid message Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah used a more aggressive tone, calling the US “disingenuous” and accusing it of issuing “contradictory statements”.
Perhaps the difference in the Taliban spokesman’s and chief’s statements can be attributed to the strategy of good cop, bad cop.
While the spokesman is telling the world that all is well and the militia is still willing to talk, the Taliban chief is playing the hard man, indicating that the Talibs are ready to continue the fight. Such tactics are par for the course in war and peacemaking.
Though the Taliban maintain a rigid position in two key areas — declaring a ceasefire and talking to the government in Kabul — their willingness to continue negotiations with Washington shows that the militia is also interested in an end to the conflict, even if it wants to project an image of toughness.
Of course, the Taliban are also buying time and waiting to see what sort of dispensation emerges in Kabul after next month’s presidential election.
If the Taliban themselves are saying “90pc” of matters with the Americans have been resolved, then it is hoped that the remaining 10pc are hammered out soon as well.
However, whatever agreement is reached with the US, complete peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved unless all Afghan stakeholders are on board where a peace agreement is concerned.
Considering the fact that the country is a patchwork of tribal and linguistic groups, all Afghan parties must reach amodus vivendi where no one is left out, and everyone has a say in ensuring that Afghanistan is run in a representative, democratic manner.
The Americans have tried, and failed, to import democracy into Afghanistan; now the challenge is for all Afghan groups — including the Taliban — to work out a representative system free from outside interference which all Afghans can own and participate in.
Stock market blues
THE stock market is seeing one of the most protracted bear runs in recent memory. The last trading session on Aug 16 saw the benchmark KSE100 index drop to below 29,000 as it fell by 664 points in a single day. There was a time when such large drops would be big news, but recent months have seen falls of this magnitude so often that they barely register as significant events. At the moment, there is no panic selling considering that the lower locks are not being activated on a regular basis except for a few scrips. The sell-off is also broad-based with all sectors caught in the net. The latest bout of selling saw the oil and gas sector in the line of fire, while on other days, banks and insurance companies or automobiles have also led the way. What is happening on the trade floor is not, clearly, an unnatural event and cannot be said to be driven by speculative or manipulative trades. Rather, the stock market appears to be reflecting the overall downturn that is crippling the economy.
For this reason, the government must steel itself to resist all demands for intervention that may come from the community of brokers who are on the front line of the losses. Back in May, this same community managed to convince the government of the need for a Rs20bn bailout. At that time, the benchmark index had just dropped below the 40,000 level after having touched highs of close to 55,000 in 2017. The slide has been ongoing since May 2017, with no respite in sight, and it is likely as it continues that the temptation to yield to the brokers’ demands for government intervention will build. At a time when the government is trying to convey a message of sacrifice and austerity to the country, it will be very difficult to justify the need for a bailout for the stockbrokers. If the government’s message, that the economy has to undergo a period of painful adjustment in order to rectify its imbalances, is to be believed, then there is little to do except let the stock market find its own level in the new reality that is sweeping across Pakistan’s economy. There is no shortage these days of industry complaints, and if government support is to be used, then the priority should be for the real sector, particularly exports.
WHAT starts as a time for celebration quickly turns into sorrow for many families in Pakistan. Over the three-day Eid holidays, a staggering 4,677 road accidents were recorded across Punjab. Tragically, 33 lost their lives while another 5,500 people were injured. Most of the deaths occurred on Independence Day that coincided with the Eid holidays. In Peshawar, two youngsters lost their lives; 400 accidents took place between Aug 13 and 14. Meanwhile, in Karachi, at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, there were 1,155 patients between Aug 12 and 17 due to traffic and road-related accidents. The vast majority of these deaths and injuries were attributed to speeding motorcyclists and impatient drivers trying to get to their destinations quickly. During such festive occasions, it is also not unusual to see motorcyclists doing tricks on their bikes or children behind the wheel. While it may be exhilarating for some, the brazen disregard and violation of traffic rules endangers not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them. The sheer number of casualties from such incidents is far too high to not be taken as a major public health concern.
According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, there were 5,958 fatalities throughout the country in 2017-18 — the highest in a decade — while another 14,489 others sustained injuries. Despite having comparatively better roads, highways and services, Punjab had the highest fatalities at 3,371. This was followed by KP, which recorded 1,295 deaths. Meanwhile, Sindh witnessed 802 deaths and Balochistan 313. And whether it is due to the increased number of vehicles on the roads, a growing population, or other factors, the Edhi Foundation considered 2018 to be the worst year for road fatalities in Karachi, with 797 deaths and 16,980 injuries documented. Enforcing preventive measures such as the wearing of seatbelts and helmets, constructing new pedestrian bridges, and ensuring working traffic signals, appropriate speed breakers and road signs, while being vigilant of corruption in the ranks of the traffic police, are just a few steps in the right direction.