The Express Tribune Editorial 24 December 2019

Back on the boil


Politics is back on the boil after a week or two that saw other issues — though not entirely non-political — occupying centre stage. The special court verdict against Pervez Musharraf preceded by hooliganism by a section of lawyers at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology continued to dominate debates on the media and among the general people before the news of the arrest of PML-N’s central leader Ahsan Iqbal over corruption allegations reignited the war of words between the government and the opposition. The news coincided with the Prime Minister’s aide Babar Awan announcing that the federal government has decided to reject Maryam Nawaz’s plea to travel abroad for taking care of her ailing father, Nawaz Sharif. Just hours after Ahsan Iqbal’s arrest came an outright refusal by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto to abide by what he calls an illegal and unconstitutional NAB call-up notice for December 24 in connection with the fake bank account and money laundering case.
Things looked like easing for the opposition when, about a month back, Nawaz Sharif was allowed out of the country for medical treatment along with brother Shehbaz Sharif as caretaker; and Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were granted bail earlier this month. The relief to both the PML-N and the PPP had been interpreted in the backdrop of the NAB chairman cautioning about a change in the wind direction. But the recent NAB actions involving Ahsan Iqbal and Bilwal Bhutto do suggest that winds continue to blow in the same direction. These actions may well be part of a strategy to add to the pressure on the opposition so as to let an important legislation sail through parliament. Whether or not this is the case, the new happenings are enough to set the political stage on fire and give rise to political acrimony — at a time when the need for political stability and harmony between the government and the opposition is ever so important.


Growing Indian protests


At least 25 people have been killed in the protests against India’s bigoted new citizenship law. The extreme violence on display from security forces, especially in Uttar Pradesh, are leading many analysts in India and abroad to call this the toughest situation Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has faced in almost six years in power. But as protests continue, Modi is now trying his hand at damage control. “Muslims who are sons of the soil and whose ancestors are the children of mother India need not worry,” Modi told his supporters in New Delhi. He falsely accused opposition parties of condoning the violence and then claimed that his opponents were “spreading rumours that all Muslims will be sent to detention camps”. He then claimed “there are no detention centres. All these stories about detention centres are lies, lies and lies,” he said.
But the Indian PM appears to have forgotten that the Home Ministry in June issued a “2019 Model Detention Manual” to states, asking them to set up camps in major entry points. Meanwhile, at least 10 detention centres have been built in Assam alone, including the sprawling six-acre Goalpara Detention Centre. Around 1,000 people are already in these centres, including at least one Muslim former Indian army official. Like most other inmates, he was among 1.9 million people deemed to be foreigners by the National Register of Citizens of India (NRC) exercise in Assam, which many have condemned for being dubiously flawed. This also ties in to another point Modi made, when he claimed there had been “no discussion” about a nationwide NRC exercise. But BJP President Amit Shah, who is also India’s home minister and a close confidant of Modi’s, has been saying the exact opposite. He has said it repeatedly in recent interviews and speeches, including in parliament. So who is telling lies, lies and lies? Is it the prime minister or his party’s president?
Pakistani voices have, meanwhile, floated concerns that India may run a false-flag operation to divert attention from the protests. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it would even be the first lie in the last three days.


K-P pharma industries


The federal government has decided to introduce a special investment policy for Balochistan and the newly-merged districts of K-P. The government plans to establish pharmaceutical industries in areas of K-P where poppy is cultivated as an alternative to provide employment to people. Two committees, headed by top officials of the ministry of commerce, have been formed in this regard.
According to a report in this newspaper, the committees will prepare their reports with recommendations and present them to the prime minister’s anti-smuggling steering committee. The K-P chief secretary also will be a member of the committee concerned with the province. It will formulate a long-term policy aimed at setting up pharmaceutical industries in the province. The policy will aim at reducing cultivation of poppy in the province, and the federal government will cooperate with the provincial government in this regard. The committees will prepare recommendations for a long-term special investment policy for Balochistan and K-P. The proposals would include subsidies, concessions and exemptions on duties and taxes. The government has decided to offer incentives to those investing in these areas. At the same time measures aimed at promoting ease of doing business will also be taken.
The plan to establish pharmaceutical industries in the newly-merged districts of K-P is aimed at luring people away from poppy cultivation. If the plan succeeds, it would go a long away in cutting cultivation of poppy, the base material for the production of heroin and other harmful drugs. Poppy is also used in some modern medicines, so pharma industries in these regions will have easy access to raw materials. In K-P, other herbs used in medicines are also grown. This factor will give incentives to local growers of such herbs. Since the aim of the plan is to discourage poppy cultivation, we hope international investors would also invest in the local pharma industry. But if only the plan translates into a reality.

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