DAWN Editorials – 9th Dec 2022

Dog-bite epidemic

AN exploding population of stray canines has fuelled a dog-bite epidemic in Sindh, with the provincial health minister telling the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday that over 200,000 dog-bite cases had been reported in the province during the first 10 months of this year. These grim numbers have also been corroborated by other sources. For example, as the manager of the Karachi-based Indus Hospital’s rabies prevention centre told this paper recently, his facility had treated over 600 cases over a two-week period. He added that many of the victims had been badly mauled by rabid canines. What is equally alarming is the fact that many of those bitten had been referred to the private welfare hospital as public health facilities had run out of rabies’ vaccine.

A two-pronged approach is needed to deal with the menace of dog bites. Firstly, public hospitals need to be equipped with sufficient rabies vaccines. Moreover, staffers must be trained to administer proper and timely treatment, which can save lives, while patients also need to be given counselling about follow-up treatment. Health experts also point out that the rabies immunoglobulin should be administered along with the rabies vaccine. The second key intervention required to save people from injury and death caused by dog bites is the need to control the canine population in a scientific way. Culling is both cruel and ineffective. And while rabid animals should be ethically put down, a far better way to control the dog population is the trap, neuter, vaccinate and release, or TNVR, approach. A rabies control programme inspired by this approach was launched in Sindh a few years ago, but as the dog-bite figures cited by the minister in the provincial assembly indicate, it may need to be implemented more effectively. It is also true that heaps of solid waste, particularly in Karachi, attract stray dogs, and unless this mess is cleaned up and local governments launch sustained TNVR campaigns, the canine population will continue to increase.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

A targeted killing

IF there were any doubts about a sinister, transnational plot to kill journalist Arshad Sharif, the 592-page report submitted on Wednesday to the five-judge Supreme Court bench by the investigation team looking into the murder should have laid them to rest. The task now is to uncover those who ordered what the two investigators, senior officials from IB and FIA, concluded was a “planned targeted assassination”, and bring them to book. According to the report, the involvement of “characters in Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan” cannot be ruled out. The scope of the investigation is vast, and it will require painstaking work that builds upon the wealth of information gleaned thus far. And who knows what inconvenient truths it could unmask? Mr Sharif’s trenchant analysis of political developments in the last few months of his life may have earned him some powerful enemies, something that his mother indicated in the application she has filed before the court.

If the well-known anchor was silenced on account of the views he expressed, it signals a new low for the environment in which the media works in the country. For it means that a journalist with a target on his or her back, which is bad enough a situation to be in, remains in mortal danger despite fleeing abroad. The investigating officers who travelled to Kenya in late October on a two-week fact-finding visit have uncovered some startling facts and inconsistencies. For instance, Waqar Ahmed who hosted Mr Sharif in Kenya had connections within the Kenyan intelligence service as well as Pakistani and other international spy agencies, which may have been why he handed over the victim’s cell phone and iPad to a member of the Kenyan intelligence, rather than the local police. The report also notes discrepancies in the account given by the Kenyan police — who claimed to have fired upon the vehicle in which the journalist was travelling — and the ballistic evidence the Pakistani investigators were able to view. There were, moreover, significant inconsistencies in statements given to the fact-finding team by the owner of the channel where Mr Sharif was last working. In short, there is much that the special JIT, constituted by the government on the Supreme Court’s directives, can build upon. This heinous crime must be solved. Neither the court, nor journalists’ bodies — both Pakistani and international — must allow the brazen murder of yet another mediaperson to go unpunished.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

Breaking the deadlock

PRESIDENT Arif Alvi and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s recent tête-à-tête to figure out a way to break the political deadlock between the PDM and PTI is a welcome step, even if much still remains to be done before there can be any hope of a major breakthrough.

It may be recalled here that the two had also met late last month, shortly before the announcement of the new army chief, when speculation had been strong that the president may throw a spanner in the works and hold up the appointment using his powers.

That meeting appears to have been a fruitful one, as what had become a major political sticking point was ultimately overcome without new controversy or ugliness from either side. It would appear that the success of that earlier interaction has now given the two enough confidence to start talking on the other major issues on the table, and it is encouraging to note that both see a chance for its success.

According to President Alvi, Mr Dar, who has been acting as PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s personal representative, deliberated with him the various options on the table for both sides and promised to get back to him on certain suggestions after consultations with his party leaders.

The president, recounting the broad contours of the meeting in a TV interview, said the possibility of early elections was also discussed. Though he understandably wanted to remain circumspect about revealing what was discussed, it is quite clear what cards the PDM and PTI hold.

The PTI appears to be using the weakening economy as leverage and can continue to give the government grief till the end over any painful measures it takes for course correction. The PDM seems cognisant it cannot solve the economic crisis without damaging itself, but it also holds significant executive power as long as it is in the federal government and is unwilling to squander it by capitulating to the PTI. Therefore, we have its demand for dialogue without any conditions attached.

The economy is thus providing the grounds for the negotiation. Neither side can be blamed solely for where things stand at the moment, but both must acknowledge their role in precipitating the current crises. If, after that, they can jointly negotiate a course to guide the economy out of its current crises, we can hope for smooth sailing to the next election, whenever it is held.

If they do not, for whatever selfish reasons, they will be imperilling the well-being of this country’s citizens. It is time for both sides to show flexibility and realise that the future of more than 240m people is at stake. The PDM and PTI must come to a mutually acceptable arrangement over the path to the next elections and set new rules for their political engagement in the future.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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