DAWN Editorials – 31st Dec 2022

On abdication

THE more things change, the more they stay the same. The word is that our political (and apolitical) overlords are once again deliberating the possibility of a government comprising technocrats to pull the country out of its current crises.
Earlier this week, former FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi, himself a technocrat, suggested that there had been high-level discussions on the topic. Later, PTI leaders Imran Khan and Fawad Chaudhry publicly lashed out against the possibility of a technocratic set-up, with the latter calling it “a joke”.
Now, former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser’s comments during a recent TV interview have confirmed that the topic is indeed under debate in political circles. According to Mr Qaiser, the suggestion of an interim set-up comprising technocrats was ‘informally’ proposed to him by the incumbent government.
However, since the PML-N’s Khurram Dastagir during the same TV show distanced his party from the proposal, it is unclear who is behind the idea being reinserted in the political narrative.
Every half decade or so, our ‘intellectuals’ circle back to the realisation that our political class is in over its head. Each time, good sense prevents them from committing a grave mistake.
The idea of unelected technocrats running the government is a bad one. By asking ‘who else will make all the difficult decisions’, it seeks to push actual politicians away from national-level decision-making. Cut through the rhetoric, and it is just a roundabout way of imposing a dictatorship in which unelected civilians act as a front.
Even if such a set-up is able to midwife the country through a crisis, it can only do so at a great cost to democracy. Therefore, the political class should resist it on principle without going into what they can gain and will lose under a technocratic set-up.
The ‘need’ for a technocratic set-up is a no-confidence motion against our politicians’ ability to lead. It is worth asking that if they agree to bring in an interim set-up overseen by technocrats to provide solutions to our challenges of governance and order, what role will they have left?
If they would rather abdicate their responsibility to fix what they have broken and leave it to unelected technocrats to figure out, do we even need such politicians in the first place? Would it not be logical to just do away with such fair-weather democrats and have dedicated technocrats manage the country in perpetuity?
If the answers to these questions are too unsettling, our political leaders should really take stock. Treating governance as a self-serving exercise to boost one’s chances for the next election is precisely what has gotten us to this point.
Agreeing to let technocrats fix the country is just an admission of that guilt. If our parties are unable to take difficult decisions, perhaps they should reconsider their claims to national leadership.
Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2022

Gwadar tension

TENSION in Gwadar and other parts of Makran has been running high over the past several days, as protesters sympathetic to the Haq Do Tehreek have squared off against security personnel in the coastal city. While supporters of the movement, headed by Maulana Hidayatur Rahman, had been holding a peaceful protest for the past two months, things went awry on Monday after talks between the HDT and the Balochistan government stalled and a strike call was given. The HDT, which also held huge demonstrations last year, wants the state to deliver on several demands, including elimination of illegal trawlers off the Balochistan coast, easing trade with Iran and reducing the footprint of security forces in the region. Though the Balochistan home minister says the state has met all the protesters’ demands, there is clearly a disconnect between the government’s and the HDT’s perspectives. After clashes erupted on Monday, unidentified gunmen killed a policeman the day after during a melee, while over 100 protesters were arrested, with the provincial government banning large gatherings. The protests have spread to other Makran towns, while Gwadar was also cut off from Karachi.
It is the state’s responsibility to keep the peace, and it must ensure that the situation is handled cautiously. Many of the HDT’s demands are genuine and the state must continue to engage with the movement, instead of crushing it. However, the demonstrators — particularly the maulana leading the movement — must also eschew combative stances and continue to protest in a peaceful fashion, while those responsible for the policeman’s murder need to be traced and punished. Balochistan’s problems are well documented, and this and other protests stem from the fact that most people of this resource-rich province continue to live in misery. If the state mishandles this situation by cracking down on the movement, it may risk turning it in a more violent direction. When pushed to the wall, movements can resort to violence or be hijacked by extremists when they see that peaceful protest is not bearing fruit.
Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2022

New Covid concerns

THE wave of fresh Covid-19 infections from new variants reported in China has sparked concerns about the spread of the virus in other countries — and justifiably so. The scenes are eerily reminiscent of early 2020, when many had started to learn about China’s Covid infections but hadn’t fully grasped the toll it would take across the world. The picture coming out of China right now is hazy; the scenes that are unfolding, though, are being watched carefully by US scientists, who are trying to gauge just how bad the spread is. In the absence of open information and transparency, it appears that currently China is reporting a high number of cases, has a shortage of medicine and is experiencing public weariness when it comes to lockdown rules. Considering what we know about the rates of transmission from the past, this is not a situation any country can take lightly. A ‘nightmare’ variant, as is being speculated by some, could reverse the gains made, including the resumption of normalcy for billions of people.
In Pakistan, the authorities are right in thinking about testing inbound passengers. What is worrying is that the Sindh health minister has admitted that the government doesn’t have the funds to do mass testing for Covid-19. Though the majority of our population is vaccinated, immunisations may be rendered ineffective against a new and lethal strain. Government officials are right in alerting border forces to the threat of the new variant. In this situation, random testing, genome sequencing and mandatory vaccinations are all the right steps when it comes to prevention. The government must ensure that, given its limited resources, those who are tested are alerted to any Covid strain. In the past, Imran Khan’s government and the NCOC did some brilliant work with track and trace, informing those that tested positive to isolate in order to limit the spread. The incumbent government must follow suit, and do everything in its power to spend whatever funds can be earmarked for Covid-19 precautions efficiently. It is not enough for the authorities to cite a lack of funds and be complacent, as the consequences of the spread of the so-called nightmare variant will be devastating to both lives and the economy. Vigilance, data gathering and proactive planning are all key, as well as keeping an eye on the research and direction scientists and epidemiologists in the West are taking. Pakistan can’t afford an outbreak that cripples daily life.
Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2022

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