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Dawn Editorial 1 June 2020

Resurgent militancy

MILITANCY is again beginning to cast a shadow over parts of the country, kindling fears of a return to the bad old days. On Eid, three people were shot dead by masked assailants in an act of targeted killing in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Among the victims was an Islamabad-based senior bureaucrat visiting his native village for the festival. Earlier this month, five people were gunned down in two separate incidents in the same town. In Wana, South Waziristan, PTM leader Arif Wazir was shot dead by unidentified assailants on May 2. Attacks on security personnel are also becoming increasingly frequent. In April alone, 10 of them were martyred in North Waziristan. In fact, 90pc of casualties in acts of violence during April were recorded in this particular tribal district. Then, last Tuesday, two policemen were murdered by unidentified gunmen in Islamabad.
Much blood and treasure has been expended in fighting militancy, particularly where the tribal districts are concerned. Its residents endured years of savagery at the hands of violent extremists, plus the loss of livelihoods and displacement from their homes during the military operation to eliminate the banned TTP. They have been warning since several months that militants are trickling back into the area, and the tenor of attacks indicate that these elements are beginning to acquire a foothold in North Waziristan, the TTP’s old stomping grounds. A jirga held by local youth in Mir Ali following the Eid murders accused the government of failing to maintain the peace secured by the Zarb-i-Azb operation and demanded action against growing incidents of targeted killing in the district. The state must swiftly and sincerely engage with the residents, identify and prosecute the attackers, and ensure that any resurgent militant cells are eradicated. Disenchantment with the authorities can be a fertile ground for the seeds of militancy to be sown. That is how the Pakistani Taliban entrenched themselves: they preyed on the people’s legitimate, and unmet, desire for justice to impose on them their bloodthirsty regime.
Long-standing grievances in Balochistan too have fuelled several separatist insurgencies in the province, and created conditions in which a slew of violent extremist and criminal groups thrive. Earlier this month, six Frontier Corps personnel were martyred when their vehicle was targeted by an IED near the Pak-Iran border. Allegations that terrorist outfits on both sides slip across the border to carry out attacks on each other’s soil have often bedevilled the countries’ bilateral ties. Then, two weeks ago, six soldiers were martyred in an IED explosion claimed by Baloch insurgents, while another laid down his life in an exchange of fire with militants in a separate incident the same day. The uptick in violence during a year when Pakistan is facing multifaceted challenges is very troubling. A sustainable peace may call for a less security-centric and more people-centric approach.


Medicine policies

A RECENT article in this paper has raised some important questions pertaining to the pharma sector in Pakistan. Indeed, the authorities would do well to reflect on our predicament — especially in the midst of the ongoing pandemic — and point to the reasons why we are unable to produce even essential medications. Why doesn’t the country produce raw materials used to manufacture medicines? Why does it have to rely on the import of these products? What will happen if the supply of raw materials and ingredients needed to make lifesaving drugs faces sudden disruptions for one reason or another? Since the outbreak of Covid-19, which has upset the global industrial supply chain by compelling countries across the world to enforce partial to full lockdown to stop the spread of the deadly infection, these questions take on greater urgency. But perhaps the answer is not too difficult after all: in a nutshell, the fault mainly lies with our policies that discourage manufacturing and encourage imports.
Pharma raw material manufacturing is a capital-intensive effort as it requires acquisition and continuous upgradation of technology that is not available in the country to produce quality products. Being a science-based industry, it also requires substantial investment in research and continuous development of products and technology. Additionally, it demands years of hard work, and consistent, supportive government policies to become commercially viable. Unless all these are in place, investors will always be looking towards the government for subsidies, which is not a sustainable way of developing any industry, least of all a highly sophisticated one like pharma. In recent decades, India and China have emerged as two leading global suppliers of low-cost pharma raw materials because their governments helped their respective industries every step of the way. India, for example, has invested enormous resources in research and development to bring its pharma industry to a point where it can synthesise even high-end products using indigenous technology and expertise. Although a couple of firms have invested in pharma raw material production in Pakistan, despite the discouraging attitude of the drug regulator and other government agencies, few investors consider it profitable business given the costs involved and competition from Indian and Chinese suppliers. Nevertheless, the country still has a chance to enter the pharma raw material industry by encouraging the manufacture of plant-based products, especially for the global pain management drugs market. That could be a start.


Keeping history alive

MUSEUMS provide a window to the past, allowing visitors to understand and interact with history. However, ever since the novel coronavirus dismantled the world as we know it, museums and other cultural institutions have had to close their doors to the public to play their part in controlling the rapid spread of the virus and save lives. According to a Unesco report, approximately 90pc of museums around the world have been closed indefinitely since the pandemic, while 10pc may have to shut down permanently, depriving many people of memorable, educational experiences, and others their sources of income.
Even though Pakistan inherited some of the world’s oldest civilisations, we never truly developed a museum-going culture, perhaps not valuing our own rich histories, or seeing the potential they held to attract tourists from around the world. Despite this lack of interest, there are some interesting museums scattered across the country that have welcomed people from all walks of life at relatively low entrance costs. A report in the paper last week mentioned that there are 46 museums in the country; out of these, 37 have now been closed. But even the best among them did not pull large enough groups of local or international tourists before the pandemic, when compared to other countries in the region. So while we may not lose revenue in the same way tourist-friendly nations are doing in these times, perhaps it is time to reflect on the importance of museums and the preservation of history to promote a positive national narrative. This government, in particular, has been keen to promote tourism in the country, taking steps to that end like easing the arduous visa application process. According to the Cultural Heritage and Museum Visits in Pakistan report by Gallup Pakistan, tourist traffic at cultural sites increased by 317pc between 2014 and 2018. The pandemic has hit the global tourism industry hard, and local museums are surely a part of it.


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