The Express Tribune Editorial 9 December 2020

Women abuse


That Pakistan has been among the top few dangerous countries of the world for women is no more a secret. The unlawful and unethical behavioural practice is rampant in our part of the world in the shape of domestic abuse, rape, honour crimes, etc. Violence against women — mainly carried out by male members of family who consider it a right — is rather rising, even being practised as a custom in several parts of the country. And despite the growing focus by media and the civil society, the threat to women is mounting — even in their own homes and at the hands of their own family members.
We, as media representatives, have been consistently raising our voice and advocating why ending violence against women is vital for a peaceful society. Pressure groups and NGOs have also been doing their part for the cause. But a stronger voice has now emerged in a collective and organised manner against the abuse of women. Religious scholars from different schools of faith have called for ending all kinds of violence against women in order to build a peaceful society and maintain interfaith harmony. Part of a dialogue recently organised by the K-P Office of UN Women and the K-P’s EVAW Alliance, the scholars have signed a declaration condemning gender-based violence and vowing to spread awareness in their respective communities to put an end to the practice.
Since religious figures enjoy a good influence over people and have a good reach also, they can help a great deal in shaping the behaviour of local communities. An increased focus of religious sermons on ending violence against women can be a good teaching exercise and can make a notable difference over time. Prominent religious scholars can also use their influence with the official figures urging them to take meaningful steps to strengthen state-run social protection networks and ensure the provision of required support to vulnerable groups, especially women.



Railway fare hike


In the economic field, the element of privatisation is introduced to rationalise prices or fares but the Pakistan Railways has done the reverse. A private company has increased passenger fares for trains under its charge by a whopping 70% and has abolished half-tickets for children and concessional fares for the elderly. The hike in charges for goods trains is astronomical: a 1,300% increase. Passengers are charged an extra Rs200 to Rs300 if they carry a rooster or pigeon. The Pakistan Railways’ fares for passenger and freight trains stay unchanged. What the private firm has done or the Pakistan Railways has allowed it to do has its novelty value, of course. The passenger fare hike ranges from Rs350 to Rs480 and from Rs350 to Rs550 on different routes while children’s fare has been increased from Rs175 to Rs270.
Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid had announced on Oct 10 at Lahore that the company would not be allowed to run trains with their ‘arbitrary’ fare hike, and their permission would be withdrawn within 24 hours. A committee was set up to decide the amount of fine to be imposed on the ‘erring firm’. However, it was again confirmed on Nov 26 that the company had not reduced the increased fares for both passenger and goods trains. On Nov 26 at a meeting at Lahore, the minister declared that the company would be fined for its ‘arbitrary action’ and fare lists would be displayed at railway stations. But so far no fare lists have been displayed and the private company continues to torment passengers by charging the ‘arbitrarily’ increased fares.
If the firm has been given a monopoly on some routes, it would further harm the railways, passengers and those who transport their goods by the railways, and only benefit truckers and transporters. Monopoly is the rule-of-thumb. The minister himself has admitted that the Pakistan Railways now ferries a mere 2% of the total amount of goods. If mismanagement is what is on display, let us despair and pray.



Menace of drugs


The Prime Minister recently said the government would soon introduce a tough new anti-drug policy. While he gave no definitive timeline for when the new policy would be presented, some details were on offer. These included taking the input of the education and health ministries, and very likely the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) — since he was speaking at the inauguration of the ANF’s new headquarters. A positive detail was that the government would focus on awareness campaigns. This is important because we all know that punitive measures related to drug use rarely work.
The business is far too profitable to address from the supply side, and — for all the wrong reasons — far too attractive from the demand side. We also cannot use the shortcut of blaming Western culture. All four provinces have a long history of drug use embedded within the local culture, whether it be bhang, hashish, or opium. That is why awareness matters. Rather than using jail time to threaten people to not do drugs, we need to help them make educated decisions on why they should not be getting high. This is especially important when it comes to more powerful and refined drugs such as heroin or synthetics like methamphetamines, also known as ‘meth’ or ‘ice’.
Drugs function on a sliding scale, but blanket bans mean uninformed youngsters may not differentiate between them until they are already hooked. This is also where the PM contradicted his much more sound earlier position by claiming no attention was paid to drug eradication measures in the past. The fact of the matter is that those extreme eradication-based approaches are what got us here. While eradication efforts still matter, they need to be focused on high-value targets such as heroin and synthetics. This could be accomplished in part by removing jail penalties for the possession of small quantities of lesser drugs and replacing them with relatively low fines. This would let law enforcement focus on dealers and hard drugs while offering the added benefit of reducing police corruption. Despite the Premier’s apprehensions about Western culture, this approach has already shown success in many countries in the East and the West.

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