Dawn Editorials 6th January 2023

TTP’s threat

AS the country’s leadership has vowed to crack down on terrorism without discrimination, the reaction from the TTP has been a familiar one: a threat to attack two of the leading political parties of Pakistan for fighting ‘America’s war’.

At the same time, the government has promised to take ‘pre-emptive’ steps to counter militancy, while also keeping the door for negotiations open for those fighters who lay down their arms.

Firstly, the TTP’s threat against the PML-N and the PPP, specifically mentioning the prime minister and the foreign minister, is a chilling one and needs to be taken seriously, as politicians have in the past paid with their lives for standing up to terrorism. The security apparatus, therefore, needs to increase protection for political leaders, including those mentioned by the terrorist group.

The TTP claims that Pakistan is fighting them “to please America” and has blamed the government for launching a war against the group. This is but sophistry, for it is the TTP that abandoned the truce with the state last year, and began its campaign of terror against Pakistan anew. As for fighting America’s war, though the US has offered this country help to counter the TTP, this is very much Pakistan’s war, as the administration cannot yield any space to militant groups who wish to change the basic character of the state through the barrel of the gun.

In related developments, the interior minister says a new federal counterterrorism body is being created to coordinate with the provincial counterterrorism departments. This will be vital, for the terrorists have the capability to strike at targets across the country and it is only through coordinated efforts involving the civilian law-enforcement bodies, as well as the military and intelligence apparatus, that the war against militancy can be won.

As for the offer of talks with the militants, the state needs to mention clearly that along with laying down arms, Pakistan’s Constitution must be respected for any negotiations to succeed.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2023

Climate conference

PRIME MINISTER Shehbaz Sharif and a delegation of senior ministers are scheduled to attend an important conference in Geneva early next week. Jointly hosted by the UN and Pakistan, the International Conference on Climate-Resilient Pakistan is a platform where this country will make its case to the international community for donations towards flood rehabilitation. Sadly, despite the continuing hardship of millions of displaced and affected citizens, the setting in of donor fatigue means that aid and support to vulnerable people, and a roadmap for long-term rehabilitation, remains out of reach. For an economy heavily dependent on agriculture, the floods have been a huge setback. Some estimates put the damage to infrastructure and the economy at $30bn. A World Bank assessment following the floods said the need for resilient rehabilitation and reconstruction would require $16.3bn, which doesn’t include new investments to support the country on its path of climate change adaptation and building overall resilience to climate shocks.

Though the devastation has been at a frightening scale and unprecedented, there is a lull in support from the international community. This conference is an opportunity for donor countries to make good on their pledges that climate change is a global problem, and not one that can be tackled alone. Pakistan is not on the list of the world’s highest emitters, but it is one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to the impact of shifting climate patterns. At the conference, Mr Sharif will present a roadmap for future long-term partnerships titled the Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework. While it is important for the international community to step up and support Pakistan given its economic vulnerability, it is also crucial for our policymakers to face some harsh truths. Pakistan’s trajectory when it comes to climate awareness has been poor in the past, with successive governments failing to tackle high deforestation, continuing their reliance on dirty fuel and ignoring air pollution. To make a compelling case for support, Pakistan’s political leaders must treat the climate crisis and its consequences as a national security issue. Any help and investment for building back must be sustained, despite the lack of political continuity. Pakistan’s perpetual political crises don’t inspire confidence about how these investments will be used, therefore our leaders must show the world they are committed to restructuring climate policy and creating plans that can withstand the partisanship that is so entrenched in our politics.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2023

New year, new crisis

REGULATORY hurdles and heavy-handed government policies have created some dangerous externalities for the country’s healthcare sector, where we may soon see an unprecedented crisis if immediate action is not taken. Stakeholders have warned of a wide-ranging emergency in the coming weeks as healthcare providers run out of essential medicines, medical devices, laboratory tests and various implements needed for the entire spectrum of medical and surgical procedures, including lifesaving interventions. In fact, according to representatives of the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries, the country has already crossed the crisis threshold. They blame months of inaction by the federal cabinet in response to a trifecta of challenges that have seriously hampered their industries’ ability to cater to domestic needs. These challenges include bank delays in opening letters of credit for most importers; a condition requiring the registration of all medical imports with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan; and the government’s continuing failure to revise drug prices despite drastic changes in the pharma economy over the past year.

In recent months, there have been multiple warning signs about the deteriorating situation in the healthcare sector. The most prominent of these was the shortage of basic drugs in local markets, such as Panadol. Likewise, citizens who recently required important medical procedures, such as the implantation of cardiac pacemakers, reported being told to wait as hospitals were rationing available devices due to supply constraints. The drug shortage was attributable to the flawed regime used to regulate medicine prices, while the device shortages were a direct result of banks controlling how many L/Cs were being issued to importers. The third issue cropped up more recently when the government failed to extend the deadline for the registration of medical imports with Drap, which expired on Dec 31, 2022. As a result, the import of most critical medical devices is currently not just difficult but also illegal.

These issues spell disaster not just for the healthcare sector but for countless sick people who need imported items for the treatment of their afflictions. It has previously been asked whether it is more important to have cheap medicines but no availability or slightly expensive medicines with ready availability. We clearly cannot have both, especially after the increased prices of all manufacturing inputs. Likewise, the government must immediately review the tactics being used to delay the issuance of L/Cs for importers of medical inputs and devices, as it directly affects sick citizens. As far as the requirement to register medical imports with Drap is concerned, the regulator needs to be given sufficient manpower to process the hundreds of thousands of applications already pending with it, and the government must suspend the registration condition till such time the process is streamlined. The looming disaster can only be averted with quick action. The government must take note.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2023

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