The Express Tribune Editorial 23 February 2021

IIOJK guided tour


How farcical is the stage-managed tour of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) that New Delhi is giving foreign diplomats? Even their own local politicians are calling out the Modi government.
Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the occupied state, mocked the trip by ‘thanking’ the visiting dignitaries before asking them to “please send some real tourists from your countries”. Abdullah, who is no friend of Pakistan, was making the point that life for regular people, and regular tourists, is still miserable and nothing like what the dignitaries experienced on their trip — a third such trip by foreign envoys from as many as 24 countries over the last 18 months.
In fact, the envoys — also including those representing the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) like Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal and Tajikistan — were even allowed to go to locations that have been off-limits for Indian opposition leaders and even members of a Joint Parliamentary Committee that was investigating recent developments in the region. But the Modi gang could not keep its illusion up for the entirety of the trip.
Though Hurriyat leaders described the trip as a “curated tour for misleading the world”, the truth still shone through. There were large strikes near areas the delegation went to. Besides, there was at least one exchange of fire, though it was uncertain whether it was freedom fighters or some criminal elements, as Indian media reports suggest that the target appeared to be a restaurant. Still, the fact that the incident took place less than a kilometre from where the delegation was present is a reminder that even VIPs are not secure in IIOJK.
Even the praise for the trip that some of the envoys offered was suspicious. One of them spoke of how many people support the Indian Prime Minister’s moves in the disputed region and how life appeared normal. However, pictures of the areas that the foreign diplomats visited show deserted streets, clearly meaning that the only people the envoys met were government stooges and leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. They hardly represent the views of the people of Kashmir who continue to remain under brutal subjugation from no less than six hundred thousand Indian troops, but refuse to give up until the realisation of their birth right to self-determination.
In its reaction, the Foreign Office of Pakistan called out the trip and similar previous ones as “guided tours to the occupied territory and meetings with hand-picked people designed to create a smokescreen to divert attention from the egregious human rights violations… and India’s illegal measures to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory”. Interestingly, the Foreign Office did not call out a secondary aspect of the tour, which was to distract from the Modi government’s expanding heavy-handedness in ‘India-proper’, including the treatment of protesting farmers and those who would dare to support them.
Instead of addressing these concerns, Modi’s mob is drawing further ridicule by filing cases against foreign activists and celebrities such as environmental activist Greta Thunberg for speaking in favour of the protesters. Meanwhile, several activists in India have been arrested for sedition, even though peacefully protesting against the government is a core democratic right enshrined in the country’s constitution. The fact that courts have upheld their detention is a reminder that the law is for regular folks. Modi believes himself to be above the law, and the courts clearly agree.



Hesitancy and AIDS


You can take a horse to the pond, they say, but you cannot make it drink the water. A similar paradoxical situation exists In Punjab and most parts of the country with regard to the rising number of AIDS/HIV patients and unwillingness on the part of an overwhelming number of them to avoid treatment even though the provincial government is providing them medicines for free. A serious fallout of this is that the untreated patients are contributing to the spread of the disease. A quick glance at the statistics will explain the enigma. Out of the 190,000 patients of AIDS/HIV in the country, Punjab has around half of these. About 90% of such patients in the province forego the free medicines, as they are hesitant to reveal their illness due to the social stigma attached to it. They suffer in silence. Their medical status remains unknown due to this reason.
This situation has placed the provincial health department in a dilemma as to how to cure AIDS/HIV patients and prevent the spread of the disease in the face of the non-cooperative attitude of most patients. The hesitation on the part of patients emanates not only from the societal attitude of stigmatising those infected with the contagious disease but also from the superstition prevailing in society. There is also the issue of the general lack of a proper sense of hygiene. All this has led physicians and the government into a triple jeopardy. The use of one syringe on several patients accounts for 45% cases of AIDS/HIV in the country. Unsafe sex and the practice of barbers to shave many customers with one sword blade are other contributing factors.
The tendency of people to avoid and dangerously delay proper treatment for various diseases is causing many avoidable deaths. It is as important to raise general awareness about seeking treatment as the provision of free medicines and treatment. One should not be too intelligent to apply self-medication.

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