The Express Tribune Editorial 13 December 2019

South Asian Games

 

The 13th South Asian Games concluded in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, on December 11, proving India’s sporting dominance in the region. Indian athletes bagged a total of 312 medals — highest by far in the seven-nation competition. India’s 171 golds placed it on top of the medals table, far outshining the 51 and 40 golds won by the second-placed Nepal and the third-placed Sri Lanka. In comparison, Pakistan — finishing fourth — bagged 32 gold, 41 silver and 59 bronze medals among a total of 132.
Even though Pakistan failed to end up among the top three, the performance of its 263 male and female athletes is commendable, given the deplorable state of the sports facilities available in the country; the perennial lack of funds which has even prevented our sportsmen from competing in international events; the infighting within the sports associations like the Pakistan Sports Board and the Pakistan Olympics Association; and above all the ‘war zone’ effect due to which foreign sportsmen have been avoiding Pakistan for years and years, denying the local players the opportunity to lock in top-level duels and, in the process, learn and progress.
Still our sportsmen — led by 22-year-old Arshad Nadeem — proved their skill and talent in all events. Nadeem himself won gold in the men’s javelin throw contest to qualify directly for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Pakistan also beat archrival India in the squash team event for the gold. In other notable performances, Nooh and Anzala brothers won gold medals in weightlifting; Uzair Rehman earned gold medal in 200m men’s race clocking a distance of 21:15 seconds while Najma Perveen won silver in 200m by completing the distance in 21.15 seconds. Our male and female karatekas also bagged golds for the country. It’s the sheer talent and hardwork of our athletes that has won us sporting laurels, and the government must pay attention towards realising their potential by providing them the necessary facilities and the patronage they deserve.

 
 

Bureaucratic reforms

 

Even before Imran Khan took oath as PM, he himself and those amongst his staff knew that the biggest challenge facing his administration will come from the mighty bureaucracy, and not the political opponents or even the other branches of the state. Indeed, PM Imran realised this and included in his agenda reforms aimed at overhauling these cogs in the administrative machinery. Fairly late into his tenure though, the PM has now decided to tweak the rules that govern promotions of bureaucrats, more specifically a grading system. The PTI government has decided to grant additional powers to the Central Selection Board (CSB), which is responsible for promoting officers in grade 18 and above. The weightage of the board’s assessment on a scorecard that determines promotions has been doubled. Other items affecting a bureaucrat’s promotion include the annual confidential report (ACR) carrying 40 marks (down from 50 previously) and the professional courses taken, having 30 marks. The move has been panned in some quarters as one which could open the door for greater political meddling in the bureaucracy.
Established on the lines of the British bureaucracy, the Pakistani and Indian professional services pride themselves on their stringent induction and rigourous training to create professionals to keep the cogs of the government machinery moving, come hell or high water. However, due to its nature, the bureaucracy has always remained on a sort of collision course with the elected representatives who sit above them. To a fledgling government, in its maiden term, the Pakistani bureaucracy is seen beholden to preceding regimes. But the fact of the matter is that it is besotted with its fair share of Sir Humphrey Applebys. The government is well within its right to go ahead with its idea of what the bureaucracy should be like. However, opening the door for cherry-picking and political interference — in a segment of the government which has deeply entrenched values — may bring about unintended consequences that go bump in the night. If anything, the government today is itself restless to eat the fruits of long-coveted bureaucratic reforms. Rather than opt for certain short-term fixes, the government must focus on carrying out comprehensive reforms prioritising merit.

 
 

Gulf thaw

 

Even though Qatar’s emir skipped a Gulf summit in Riyadh which some had been calling a ‘reconciliation conference’, speeches by regional leaders signalled a thaw between Doha and Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz had apparently sent a ‘written message’ to
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to attend the event which was relocated from the UAE to the Saudi capital. The warm welcome King Salman gave to Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser at the start of the summit reflected a change in attitudes since June 2017, when the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar.
The four nations accused Doha of backing the Muslim Brotherhood and cosying up to Iran. Qatar-owned Al Jazeera’s reporting was also a point of contention. Interestingly, the thaw is coming despite Doha’s refusal to accede to the 13 demands made of it, which include shutting down Al Jazeera, downgrading ties with Iran, and closing Turkish military bases in the country. In his speech at the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, King Salman called for greater unity in the face of threats such as Iranian ‘aggression’, while avoiding direct references to the Qatar situation. GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani also called for better integration.
A thaw would be welcome news due to the impact of the blockade on trade and communications both within and outside the region. Signs of a thaw started in October when Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met senior Saudi officials in a bid to heal the rift. The foreign minister confirmed the meeting at a conference in Rome, where he expressed hope that the “talks will lead to our progress where we can see an end for the crisis.” Another thaw was seen when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain sent their national football teams to compete in the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup, hosted by Qatar. The Saudis also flew to Doha directly, despite airspace restrictions.

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