Dawn Editorials 29th May 2023

Killing spree

IT’s a symptom of a society’s morbid soul when the living are tortured and murdered with impunity. On Friday, Karachi police arrested a man for allegedly slaying a street dog after his video went viral on social media — he pulls a pregnant dog with a rope and kills her by stringing the animal on an iron grill. While a case was lodged against the accused, the SHO said that though the law was clear about a pet dog this was a stray. He claimed that the suspect was emotionally unstable. JFK Animal Rescue and Shelter revealed on Twitter “the market watchman” had a purported history of killing dogs.

We must remember that the World Animal Protection Index marked Pakistan “an ‘E’, with an ‘F’ in government accountability and a ‘G’ in animal protection”. But the country cannot recalibrate its attitude without putting a graver malaise in the spotlight — animal cruelty is a crime of control and power caused by Antisocial Personality Disorder. Studies show animal brutality as the springboard for serial killers and mass murders. FBI profilers say, “cruelty to animals is one of three symptoms that predict the development of a psychopath. It is included as a criterion for a conduct disorder in children by American Psychiatric Association”. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders supports the assessment, “sociopathic personality develops in early childhood or adolescence and its ‘conduct disorder’” often translates to cruelty to animals. Sociopaths have an inability to empathise, they inflict pain with no remorse. So, policymakers must redraft the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890, with an informed approach, underlining the odious fallouts of these crimes and include “internationally accepted five freedoms of animals: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, disease, freedom from fear and distress, freedom to express normal behaviour”, to enforce welfare and hold zoos, shelters, kennels, and abusers accountable. Dead souls will prove deadly.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2023

Colonial reminders

ON the face of it, the UK’s Conservative cabinet is amongst its most diverse ever, with persons of colour in top positions. Leading the pack is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who traces his roots to the subcontinent and is his country’s first Hindu leader. Yet paradoxically the attitudes of many in the British cabinet — particularly the descendants of immigrants — towards immigration are shocking, and in many respects reflect the talking points of the hard right and white nationalists. Commenting on record levels of net migration to the UK recently, Mr Sunak said that legal immigration levels were “too high”, and that he wanted to bring them down. Yet the British PM’s observations on the topic are comparatively progressive in the backdrop of the gems his Home Secretary Suella Braverman produces. Ms Braverman, who is also of Indian heritage, is not the most politically correct member of the British cabinet. Recently, she was criticised for implying that child grooming and other sexual crimes were the preserve of Pakistani men in the UK. British academics have called her comments on the subject “inaccurate [and] divisive”. The home secretary, a big fan of the erstwhile British Empire and its supposed achievements, is also very tough on immigration, championing the cruel policy of shipping off asylum seekers to Rwanda, and calling for visa restrictions on workers, students and their families.

The irony of the fact that the children of immigrants are calling for clamping down on migration is lost on no one. If the policies of Ms Braverman and Mr Sunak had been in effect several decades ago, their forebears may never have made it to British shores. Countries, of course, have a right to control who crosses their borders. But blaming immigrants for all of society’s troubles is a dangerous, xenophobic narrative championed by the extreme right worldwide. It can normalise violence against people of colour, and result in the permanent ‘otherisation’ of migrants. Moreover, aside from economic migrants, many of those heading towards the UK and other Western countries hail from war zones and fractured states which have been devastated by invasions and regime-change operations spearheaded by Western-led coalitions. Apparently, the West has ample funds to wage war in the Global South, but closes its borders when the wretched of the earth knock at its doors for refuge.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2023

A steep price

PAKISTAN’S economy faces a severe multidimensional crisis amid a gloomy and uncertain outlook.

A recent State Bank report on the state of the economy during the first half of the present fiscal year admits that macroeconomic fundamentals are deteriorating, but it understates the severity of the painful crisis the country and its people have been contending with for the last one year — just as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar does when he contends the country is not on the verge of a financial crisis and will “absolutely not” default.

To prove his point, he has pointed to the current account surplus of $570m and $18m recorded in March and April, respectively. But he did not say that the government achieved this surplus at the cost of GDP growth, which is forecast to stay flat this fiscal year amid widespread industrial closures and productivity cuts, and tens of thousands of lost jobs.

At least the State Bank has been more forthcoming than Mr Dar. The latter’s mismanagement of the economy over the last eight months proves that he is part of the problem. No wonder, Princeton economist Atif Mian has tweeted: “To thump your chest and say, ‘see we have not defaulted’ means nothing if you continue to ignore the underlying crisis.”

The only thing worse than indecisiveness in the face of a crisis is incompetence, he added, warning that cutting GDP to sell cheap petrol “will make it more difficult to pay off the debt, leading to more devaluation, more misery, and higher petrol prices in terms of purchasing power”.

But words of wisdom seldom have a place in a world of bluster. Whether the country’s economic leadership admits to it or not, the reality is that the economy is teetering on the brink. We may have dodged a formal default for now, but the price the country has paid in the form of shutdowns, job losses, the steepest currency devaluation and the fastest consumer inflation, and plummeting business confidence has been massive.

The country must pay billions in debt repayments over the next three years, but its foreign exchange reserves are enough to pay for only a few weeks’ worth of controlled imports. Foreign official and commercial inflows are drying up due to the uncertainty regarding the restoration of the suspended IMF programme and the ongoing political strife.

The situation has come to a point where any step taken to stabilise the economy actually exacerbates the crisis. For example, administrative curbs to improve the external account and increased interest rates to address currency devaluation and inflation are threatening to further destabilise the high-deficit budget. The people should brace themselves for more misery as the government doesn’t have a credible plan to deal with the crisis.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2023

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