The Express Tribune Editorial 4 October 2019

Success story

 

Good news on nature and wildlife: markhor and the blind dolphin are no more on the verge of extinction in Pakistan. PM’s Adviser on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam has told the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Climate Change that the two animals “have come out of the list of species at risk of getting extinct”. It’s indeed a successful comeback, as the PM’s adviser calls it, given that about a decade back, the situation with both the species was incredibly bleak.
While the population of Indus river dolphins in Pakistan, according to a census carried out in 2001, had come down to a dangerous 1,200; markhor, our national animal, was also fighting for its survival at more than a front – hunters wanted its long, spiralling horns for their display case; local population needed the animal weighting about 200 pounds to satiate their hunger; and traditional medicine practitioners, believing in its healing powers, were also after the magnificent mammal. Thus the population of markhor had come down to just 275 in the nineties throughout Pakistan while the figure in the whole of its native range – which includes mountainous regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India – had shrunk to around 2,500 in 2011.
No comprehensive data is available in Pakistan though, according to figures claimed by experts and government officials, the population of markhor has grown over the last couple of years, due to government policies, regulating the hunting in particular. According to latest estimates available, the markhor population late last year was around 3,500 – something considered as a huge win for an animal believed by experts to be the ancestor of many modern domesticated goats. The population of the blind dolphin has also somewhat doubled over the last decade or so due to efforts involving an innovative and collaborative approach to save the species, integrating research, effective law enforcement, and critical community engagement.

 
 

Focus on e-commerce

The federal cabinet has rolled out a new e-commerce policy framework which hopes to empower women entrepreneurs, encourage smaller businesses, and eventually create export drivers. There are no official numbers available for the size of the local e-commerce industry because almost two-thirds of transactions are still cash-based. However, e-commerce sales in 2017 were estimated at Rs20.7 billion, which almost doubled to Rs40.1 billion ($260 million) in 2018, according to some reports. In terms of online spending per capita, it comes out to just over one dollar per capita for Pakistan as compared to around $25 in India and around $1,100 in China. This illustrates the extremely high growth potential in this sector.
The new policy would encourage a shift from cash-based transactions to digital payments, with a requirement for all payments over Rs10,000 to be digital-only by September 2022. The government also hopes to eliminate cash payments for e-commerce entirely by 2029, which, while ambitious, is very much doable. For this, the Ministry of Information Technology is expected to collaborate with the State Bank of Pakistan to approach various international online payment gateways to ensure the availability of more options for consumers and vendors.
Among the hurdles for e-commerce growth in Pakistan has been mistrust of vendors vis-a-vis quality and delivery efficiency. The new policy aims to bring in insurance liability regulations and dispute resolution mechanisms which may address this. While some aspects of e-commerce are already dealt with under existing legislation, a new body will be working on legalese relating to e-signatures and e-contracts, which are both now commonplace in developed economies. Another significant goal is to formulate international standard tax policies for such transactions. It will also be compulsory for online businesses with sales of over Rs1million per annum to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and to maintain a physical address in Pakistan, which may affect global e-commerce players which ship from overseas but have no physical presence here.
Overall, the policy seems to be effectively implementable, and if done properly, could be one of the brighter spots in the government’s economic planning thus far.

 
 
 

Keeping addicts out of schools

The government has planned to make drug tests mandatory for schoolteachers, members of the administrative staff and students in Islamabad, Minister of State for Narcotics Control Shehryar Afridi told a Senate panel on Oct 3. This means that those found positive for addiction will not be given admission to schools and will not be appointed as teachers and members of the administrative staff. The screening process to keep the harmful elements out is a good idea. In recent years, drug addiction among university, college and school students has been increasing at an alarming rate. This is an ominous situation, so the minister’s announcement should come as a great relief to parents, teachers and the society as a whole. Speaking at a meeting, the minister declared that no one engaged in the drug trade and promotion of drugs would be spared however high and mighty he might be. He said the government was working on legislation to punish the possession of crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as ice.
Drug addiction has been growing in Pakistan since the late 1970s, and now the harmful habit is catching on even with school students. In 2016, an NGO reported that around 53 per cent of students in leading private school chains in Islamabad is addicted to various kinds of drugs. Earlier, there were reports of growing drug addiction among university and college students in different parts of the country. According to estimates, there are 7.6 million drug addicts in Pakistan — 78 per cent males and 22 per cent females. The government of Imran Khan is taking serious steps to curb drug addiction and the drug trade. The secretary Narcotics Control told the Senate panel that a record was being maintained of criminal entities involved in the narcotics trade. The minister informed the panel that his ministry had collected data of drug dealers and money launderers from more than 250 international law-enforcement agencies. He said Interpol and UAE authorities had sought Pakistan’s help on the issue.

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