The Express Tribune Editorial 13 November 2019

100 days of lockdown

There was a time when the world would get daily reports about the oppression of an indigenous people by an oppressive government invited in by the decision of a king seeking to maintain power. The king was deposed soon after his fateful decision over 70 years ago, but the reign of terror remained. Then, a hundred days ago, those reports seemed to disappear. Had the oppressive government been removed? Unfortunately not. It had instead expanded its oppressive practices into the 21st century, cutting off all communications with the outside world for the people it had tried so unsuccessfully and for so long to torture into submission.
Despite appeals from many corners of the world to roll back the latest oppressive measures and avoid further tarnishing its claim to being the world’s largest democracy, India continues on its ride into the depths of fascism. The reign of terror continues unhindered largely because of the silence of the world’s most influential states. Of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, only one – China – has raised any significant noise about India’s actions in Kashmir. The three western democracies on the UNSC – the United States, France and Great Britain – have let economic considerations and domestic politics outweigh any worries about the human rights that they claim to hold so dear.
A large number of Muslim states have also held back from overtly criticising India due to economic or security considerations. Even though some international organisations and influential countries such as Germany and Turkey have been louder in their criticism of India’s latest Kashmir crackdown, without the world on one page, India is unlikely to significantly roll back its oppressive practices any more than it did a few weeks back, when it allowed a hand-picked group of right-wing members of the European Parliament with no foreign policy credentials to go on boat rides in the disputed state.
And yet, there are still signs of hope, because, in spite of the lack of tangible intervention by the international community on behalf of the Kashmiri people, more and more people in India seem convinced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent actions are a bridge too far for them. The Maharashtra elections show that despite all of Modi’s recent ‘grand’ actions in Kashmir and elsewhere, the BJP actually lost seats, as did its allied extremist parties.
But we must be realistic. When fascist governments begin losing at the ballot box, they resort to other means to maintain power. Today, dissent in India is being punished using threats of violence and outright mob lynchings, and at the ‘formal level’ through ludicrous means such as the revocation of nationality. The current Indian government has shown that there is a higher likelihood of Kashmir-like crackdowns spreading nationwide than there is of the situation improving, more so because those with the platform to speak truth to power have themselves bitten off too much of the forbidden fruit. Even respected Indian journalists no longer seem to know the difference between Modi and the Republic of India — critique of the former is translated as being a critique of the latter, even if no such inferences were made.
So how then can the conditions in India-Occupied Kashmiri (IOK) be improved? Get the world to pay attention, not only to what is going on now, but what has been going on for over 70 years. If Kashmiris were allowed to govern themselves, maybe they would stop using pebbles to ‘terrorise’ the heavily-armed Indian security forces. Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir may not be the best-governed places in the world, but compared to IOK, they are a paradise. Show the world.


The price of tomato

A wisecrack has said: If you don’t read newspapers you are uninformed; if you read them you are misinformed. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh caused the same embarrassment to the informed the other day when he snubbed a reporter, saying tomato was selling dirt cheap in Karachi. The reporter was drawing the attention of the adviser to the rising prices of food items. When the reporter said tomato was selling for Rs250-300 a kg in Karachi, the adviser dismissed him and said with all the confidence in the world that tomato was available at Rs17 a kg in Karachi’s sabzi mandi. There is nothing surprising about the answer.
However, the adviser’s claim about the price of tomato in Karachi does not in the least change the reality that tomato is selling at ridiculously inflated prices in the city. Its price has shot up so high that only those who have money to burn can buy it. Now that there are no buyers for this common kitchen item it is not being seen even on the carts of vegetable sellers. Besides, an onion which is an essential kitchen item is selling for Rs100-120 a kg. Prices of other vegetables too have shot up. As a result, most vegetables have gone beyond the reach of the common man.
Some quarters are attributing the rise in prices of vegetables to hoarding and smuggling to other countries. Our people are known to put up with many deprivations. So the rising food inflation is not much of a problem for them. But what has both saddened and bemused them is the kind of information that the adviser has about prices of food items. It is a total disconnect from the ground realities. The minister is, however, not that ignorant that he appears to be. He who answers every question, it is said, must be very ignorant. When the heart murmurs, the mouth does not obey properly.
The prime minister has ordered the setting up of a special cell to curb the rising food inflation.


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