Dawn Editorials 15th May 2023

Dacoits on the rampage

A REPORT in this newspaper recently laid bare the entrenched network and criminal activities of dacoits in Sindh’s upper riverine areas and the myriad challenges faced by the provincial police force in countering them. The conditions in which police officials posted in Kashmore, Ghotki and Shikarpur work are appalling. Several officials, including DSPs and SHOs, have been killed in encounters with the fearsome dacoits of the katcha area. These outlaws are heavily armed with sophisticated weaponry, including anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers, leaving the police at a considerable disadvantage. The police personnel are also outnumbered, and there is only a paltry force deputed to man check posts in the areas over which the dacoits have such a strong grip. But it is not just limited resources and manpower that is a hurdle in this situation. Reportedly, police officials who happen to be from the same caste as the dacoits routinely give them leeway. For their part, the dacoits have built trenches from where they have a bird’s eye view of all police movement and can thereby easily outmanoeuvre them. It is evident that the security personnel are also suffering from low morale, as the dacoits routinely elude them, even making videos of their attacks on police pickets and posting them on social media. One senior retired police official actually said that calling on the army to dismantle the dacoits’ network is the only solution, as it is not possible for the police to tackle them on its own.

The authorities in Sindh must take this matter seriously. The cops must be better equipped and trained to deal with the bandits and regain the trust of the community. Their salaries, equipment and capacity must be improved for them to be able to thwart these criminals. And even if the army is called in for a targeted operation, the police force must be given the resources it needs to maintain peace in the area.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2023

The long Nakba

THIS year, Israel celebrates 75 years as a nation state. But for the Palestinian people, there is little to celebrate as the Nakba — catastrophe in Arabic — which accompanied the establishment of Israel, and entailed the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from their ancestral homeland, has never really stopped. In fact, the Palestinians have suffered a continuous Nakba at Israeli hands, as the latest massacres occurring in Gaza and the occupied West Bank show. The latest bout of violence began on Tuesday, when Israel launched an assassination campaign against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance group. High-ranking members of the armed group were targeted by Israeli strikes in Gaza, many as they slept, their wives and children also inconveniently slaughtered as ‘collateral damage’. Islamic Jihad reacted by unleashing a barrage of rockets targeting Israel. At the time of writing, over 30 Palestinians had been killed, including six children, as hundreds of homes in the impoverished Gaza Strip were partially or totally destroyed in Israeli attacks. Hospitals in the tiny enclave are reportedly overwhelmed, while Israel has also responded with deadly force in the held West Bank.

Israel’s western patrons often argue that Tel Aviv has the right to self-defence. While that may be so, does the right to self-defence include allowing the massacre of Palestinian children and civilians? Unfortunately, the Israeli attitude towards the Palestinians has very much been shaped by the Nakba. Survivors of that disaster recall the terror they were subjected to by Zionist paramilitary gangs, as they were uprooted from their ancestral homes and forced into a lifetime of wandering and statelessness. Around 750,000 people were expelled in a biblical exodus, while around 15,000 Arabs were killed. The expulsions and murderous purges continue till this day. The Zionist contempt for the Palestinians is summed up by a widely reported remark made by former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, in which she denied that the Palestinian people ever existed. This has been the founding myth that has allowed Israel as a colonial settler state to continuously devour Palestinian land and spill Arab blood. Nakba survivors tearfully hope for the day when they, or their children and grandchildren, can return to the land of their forefathers. Sadly, powerful members of the international community, through their blind support of Israel, are trying their best to ensure this dream remains forever unfulfilled.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2023

Declining remittances

OVERSEAS Pakistanis are sending fewer dollars back home these days, with workers’ remittances dropping 13pc to $22.7bn during the 10-month period between July and April of this fiscal year as compared to the last one. The loss of $3.4bn in home remittances nearly matches the upcoming debt repayments of $3.7bn during May-June.

The amount is also equal to the ‘financing gap’ that Pakistan has been struggling to arrange for the restoration of the IMF funding programme. This loss becomes even more glaring considering the depleted forex reserves that are just enough to pay the bill for five weeks of controlled imports amid growing fears of a default.

The decline in home remittances has been across the board. Yet the Middle East, which contributes over half of Pakistan’s total remittances, is the key region playing a bigger part in this decline with Pakistani workers living in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE having sent $2.5bn fewer dollars.

Likewise, the inward remittances from the UK and EU fell by $500m. While the decline from the UK and EU is attributable mainly to surging costs of living amid the ongoing economic slowdown in those economies, the large drop from the Middle East is being driven by growth in cash transfers through the illegal hawala/hundi channels.

Large traders and commercial importers are using these channels to buy foreign exchange from non-resident Pakistanis at much higher than the interbank rate to pay for their imports — to steal taxes as well as circumvent SBP restrictions imposed to slash imports, limit dollar outflow and protect its scanty foreign exchange reserves.

With the long-delayed IMF bailout deal nowhere in sight amid a drying up of external financing from other sources — including the so-called friendly nations — the workers’ remittances are crucial to keep the economy afloat and avert a default on sovereign debt.

The non-debt creating remittances have supported the country’s current account for the last two decades. Even though remittances have followed a declining trend during the current fiscal year, the increase in transfers through official channels in the last two months is an encouraging development for the country’s fragile external account.

It is, however, too early to say whether the surge in March-April sums sent home by overseas Pakistanis — after a sharp decline between November and February — represents a reversal in the downward trend or it is just a seasonal aberration due to the seasonal Ramadan/Eid effect.

In order to maintain the present upward trend, the government must adopt policies to at least curb, if not completely destroy, the demand for hawala/hundi dollars to bridge the wide price gap in official and unofficial forex markets.

Every dollar saved is worth the effort because the foreign exchange crunch is pulling the economy apart, leading to industrial closures and job losses and destroying demand.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2023

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