The Express Tribune 30 July 2019

IOK: additional deployment

At one trooper to 10 civilians, occupied Kashmir is already the most militarised part of the world, with Indian occupation forces in the troubled territory numbering five hundred thousand.
As if that’s not enough to suppress the indigenous freedom movement of Kashmiris, the Indian government has deployed at least 10,000 more paramilitary troops to the disputed Himalayan region, causing a noticeable rise in tension among the residents that have long been subjected to state terrorism. While the local authorities insist it is a routine deployment, there is a fair reason to see something unusual behind the move.
Seven separate petitions challenging the validity of Article 35A of the Indian constitution – which confers special rights to the permanent residents of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and impedes citizens from other parts of India from settling permanently in the occupied state, buying property there and taking up state government jobs – have been pending with the country’s top court for a final hearing.
The court has deferred hearings six times since October 2018, but that Narendra Modi, the hardliner, is now firmly in the saddle, it is quite understandable for him to pursue the cases fairly vigorously in order to come good on his election pledge to abrogate Article 35A – as well as the related Article 370 – and pave the way for changing the demography of the occupied state. That would be Modi’s remedy to the chronic Kashmir ‘headache’ and that comes in line with the BJP’s nationalist ideology to promote Hindutva.
That the additional deployment is intended to guard against the fallout over possible scrapping of the mentioned articles is a widespread belief in the occupied state. And the reactions from political players are strengthening this belief.
The National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement and other political parties have warned the Indian Prime Minister against tinkering with the two articles that give special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the words of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, it would be akin to setting a powder keg on fire.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2019.


Experimenting with education

Pakistan is an exceptional country in the world where society is constantly and repeatedly being subjected to experiments in every sphere and sector – be it constitutional, political, social or economic.
Education is, of course, the prime victim of this never-ending cycle of experiments that our rulers – politicians and bureaucrats – are so fond of. In a latest development, Punjab CM Usman Buzdar has decided to re-introduce Urdu as medium of instructions up to primary level in all 60,000 government-run schools of the Punjab.
“Since the medium of instructions is English at the primary level, teachers and students are wasting most of their time in translating instead of understanding the subject and they hardly learn anything [in this process],” says Buzdar through a tweet adding that Urdu will be the medium of instructions in all the primary schools of Punjab from the next academic session beginning March 2020.
The 18th Amendment makes education a provincial subject and all the federating units are now free to formulate and evolve their own education policies while deciding about what to teach and what not to teach and in what manner. They are free to decide about their curriculum, syllabi, textbooks and mediums of instruction even if they are different or conflicting with each other.
Buzdar, however, claimed that the latest decision was in conformity with the PTI manifesto promising to introduce a uniform system or syllabus of education and Urdu as medium of instructions at the primary level. It wraps up the system introduced by the PML-N government in consultation with Britain’s Department for International Development and the British Council introducing English as medium of instruction in all the schools of Punjab.
The idea to impart education, at least at the primary level, in child’s ‘mother tongue’ or, as some experts suggest, in the ‘first language’ (referring to the language first acquired by the child) is hardly contestable. But in the given circumstances, there is a fear that conflicting approaches by the federating units in education may lead to further divisions in whatever we have in the name of national cohesion.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2019.


Sheesha smoking

The July 12 decision of the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services Regulation and Coordination to request the Ministry of National Health Services to relax ban on sheesha smoking in Pakistan has evoked strong emotions on both sides of the debate.
The committee chairman, Senator Mian Ateeq Sheikh, has favoured a lifting of the ban to facilitate businesses and enhance tax revenue. He believes the activity should be regulated instead of being banned altogether.
However, any debate on the subject must consider the serious health risks of sheesha smoking. According to WHO, smoking sheesha for one hour is the equivalent of smoking 200 cigarettes. In one puff of sheesha, a person inhales as much smoke as when smoking a whole cigarette. Furthermore, sheesha tobacco contains cigarette tobacco, which means that it contains nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.
Sheesha smokers are, therefore, at risk for the same diseases as cigarette smokers i.e. heart diseases, cancer, respiratory ailments, etc. Some people mistakenly think ‘herbal’ sheesha is safer. It is not. And, even if you use tobacco-free sheesha, you are still at risk from carbon monoxide and any toxins in the coal or charcoal used to burn the sheesha.
Add to these health hazards, the dangers of second-hand smoke, dental hygiene issues and the health risks of sharing sheesha pipes with other smokers, and you’ve got an unhealthy activity on your hands.
And regulating sheesha cafe activity wouldn’t alleviate its health hazards or the strain it would impose on an already overburdened healthcare system. It is important to emphasise here that, in the current situation, an essential step the government must take is to disseminate information among the public on the harmful effects of sheesha smoking.
Once that is effectively done, people are likely to overwhelmingly support a ban on the activity. Thus, while businesses may be affected, there are pressing health reasons to continue the sheesha smoking ban.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2019.

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