The Express Tribune Editorial 18 October 2019

Imran in Iran and Saudi Arabia


Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is crediting Pakistan for averting war in the Middle East, which would be a positive development if either of the two main parties to the conflict had offered any hint that this was the case. Qureshi said Saudi and Iranian leaders indicated a willingness to talk after meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, but given the massive implications of his statement, Qureshi offered no additional details to back up his claim.
PM Imran’s visits can, however, still be seen as an effort at reconciliation that he could not have undertaken without a green light from the leaders of both countries. Incidentally, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi has also been reportedly relaying messages about de-escalation between Saudi and Iranian leaders. The biggest sign that there has been a rapprochement actually came last week after the attack on an Iranian oil tanker, when Tehran refrained from instantly casting blame on the Saudis, as had been a common past practice. How long that restraint holds may well reflect on the level of commitment to peace on the Iranian side. The Saudis, meanwhile, have likely been forced to re-evaluate their own position after US President Donald Trump upturned the situation in Syria. By leaving America’s Kurdish allies high and dry, Trump may have shown the Saudis that he is not a reliable partner, even if he did send additional troops to the kingdom. Also worrying the Saudis would be his past reluctance to escalate any confrontation with Iran.
In a recent interview, Imran may have strengthened this theory by telling CNN that Trump had asked him to “try and be a go-between with Iran and the United States.” In the same interview, Imran said a Saudi-Iran war would be “a disaster”. He also said that a priority in his discussions with the leaders of both countries was to create a ceasefire in Yemen, which is already a disaster because of the war between a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. But let us be optimistic. Too many times, peacemaking efforts in the Middle East have been more talk and less action. Maybe Riyadh and Tehran’s silence is a good thing.


Halal food trade


The government’s lethargy towards tapping the international Halal food market is inexplicable given the huge potential that Pakistan has in livestock, dairy and poultry sectors. Experts believe that the country can export Halal products worth $5 to $6 billion a year if they focus on a few key areas. The government, to the contrary, has for months been fighting over what is called jurisdiction dispute in police parlance. The federal cabinet is divided on whether to place the Pakistan Halal Authority (PHA) — a body responsible for promoting and regulating Halal food trade — under the administrative control of the Ministry of Commerce or the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The cabinet held long deliberations over the issue earlier this month, but failed to reach a consensus. Some cabinet members believe that since the PHA is essentially a certification authority, its functions are more aligned with those of the Ministry of Science and Technology while others are of the view that the PHA’s role — i.e. promotion of Halal products’ trade — is more relevant to the Ministry of Commerce. It was in March this year that the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet had directed the PM’s Adviser on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, Dr Ishrat Husain, to present a viable plan for turning the PHA into a vibrant organisation.
However, the deadlock on a non-issue is delaying the urgently-needed steps for promoting export of Halal products. The government must do away with this stumbling block related to the administrative control forthwith and concentrate on: formulating a robust strategy to raise exports with the involvement of the private sector; expediting work on Halal certification and developing a Halal logo for all its Halal products; helping private companies develop technical skill in processing, storing, transporting and marketing of Halal products; and maintaining the international standards in packaging and marketing of Halal products.


Keeping hands clean


There has always been a wide gulf between precept and practice in Pakistan. On October 15, NGOs as well as government agencies organise seminars and awareness sessions across the country on the importance of washing hands. This event is being organised since 2008. An expert says in Pakistan, hardly 20% of people wash their hands with soap. He often sees doctors do not wash hands after checking a patient; in this way, they are transferring diseases from one person to the other. He estimates that in Pakistan, only one in five washes their hands after answering nature’s call. Doing so cuts the risk of diarrheal diseases by 42-47%. Lack of access to sanitation and poor hygiene contribute to around 88% of childhood deaths caused by diarrheal diseases, he says.
According to the United Nations, Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Health Organisation, around three billion people — around 40% of the world’s population– do not have access to running water and soap to wash their hands. A report, jointly published by the two organisations this year, says at least 40% of Pakistanis are at risk of contracting preventable diseases as they have no access to basic hygiene facilities. According to another report, one in three government schools in Pakistan lacks sanitation facilities. This situation claims the lives of 46 children every day in the country. Water and sanitation stand at number six on the list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in 2015. A senior Sindh government official says there has been no significant progress with regard to achieving SDGs in the province. “The provincial government has formed an SDGs unit comprising MPAs, but one cannot see any positive change,” another provincial government official said. Most government schools in Sindh lack hygiene facilities and water supply.
Of course, physical hygiene is necessary for all. At the same time, we also need political hygiene. Clean hands are happy hands.

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