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Dawn Editorial 11 March 2020

Call for leadership

THE number of patients in Pakistan diagnosed with Covid-19 has begun to creep up. As per the latest count, there are 19 confirmed cases of the virus, mostly in Sindh.
Federal and provincial authorities are scrambling to take necessary steps to curtail the spread of the virus. However, if the global situation is any indicator, this will be easier said than done.
China has reported some progress in combating Covid-19, but the virus is spreading at an alarming rate in Europe and the US. Iran is also reeling under its devastating effects, while many parts of the world are bracing for tougher days ahead.
In Pakistan, although the authorities were initially slow to acknowledge the seriousness of the threat, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah along with their teams at the federal level and in Sindh, respectively, have since shown considerable initiative.
In Balochistan, too, measures have been taken to contain the spread of the disease.
So far, however, the governments of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan have not displayed the same level of urgency.
More importantly, and alarmingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan has yet to publicly acknowledge the presence of Covid-19 in the country and thereby demonstrate that he is cognisant of the clear and present danger it poses to the nation and its citizens.
Pakistan is in need of a leader who can bring people together to work collectively to forestall a widespread epidemic in the country.
Prime Minister Khan needs to get into action and lead such a national effort.
It is his job to spur all governments to coordinate on inter-provincial activities, fast track funds and procurements, and calm the public’s fears while motivating them to adopt precautionary measures.
In order to do this, he must galvanise the political leadership of all parties to work in unison to combat the emerging crisis.
This requires all parties to rise above partisan politics and petty vendettas.
The prime minister must now lead — putting his politics aside and reaching out to his opponents in order to build a truly national coalition to tackle the threat posed by Covid-19.
Success will require a multi-pronged approach that brings together political cooperation, administrative coordination, medical efficiency and decision-making that is clear-headed, swift, decisive and bold.
Rules may need to be re-drafted or relaxed, procedures may need to be shortened, and bureaucratic hurdles will have to be brushed aside if the federal and provincial governments are to move with lightning speed to build up the infrastructure needed to handle the situation.
The opposition should also show willingness to ensure that politicking is set aside until we have prevailed over this health emergency.
There is no time to lose.
The nation expects the prime minister to lead this fight and secure Pakistan from the scourge of Covid-19.


Spectacle in Kabul

WHILE the peace deal signed at the end of last month between the US and the Afghan Taliban provided some hope that the long and brutal war in Afghanistan may be coming to a close, events since then have proved that this may be another false dawn. Violent exchanges have occurred between the Taliban and the US after a brief pause, while Kabul witnessed a major terrorist attack last week when the local affiliate of the militant Islamic State group attacked a condolence ceremony for a Hazara leader. However, perhaps the biggest impetus to peace at this time is the power struggle playing out in the Afghan capital between President Ashraf Ghani and his main political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who served as the country’s chief executive in the last dispensation. Over the decades, Kabul has witnessed many strange and surreal events, but the fact that two presidential inaugurations occurred in the city on Monday was truly farcical. Ashraf Ghani was sworn in at the presidential palace while in another section of the complex Mr Abdullah ‘inaugurated’ himself as the leader of Afghanistan. Moreover, the ceremony was attacked by rockets, reportedly fired by IS.
Sadly, it appears as if history is repeating itself in Afghanistan. Soon after the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992, the country saw a vicious power struggle within the Mujahideen as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar refused to support the dispensation led by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Soon enough, the warlords were going at each other with almost the same zeal as they attacked the Soviets with. This chaotic interlude gave way to the rise of the Taliban, who swept through Kabul in 1996 to establish their ‘emirate’. Unfortunately, it appears that the Afghan power brokers have learnt nothing. While foreign forces — the Soviets, the US — played a major part in destabilising Afghanistan, local leaders, from the Mujahideen to the political bosses of today, cannot be absolved of blame. In fact, it is their inherent disunity that is standing in the way of a durable peace. On Tuesday, American troops reportedly started their withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the power struggle in Kabul worsens, the peace deal can safely be consigned to history, as the Taliban are unlikely to negotiate with the Kabul government. In fact, they may even ask: who do we talk to? It is time for the Afghan political class to show vision and sagacity, or be prepared for more chaos and lawlessness.


Final destination

RECENTLY, the Federal Investigation Agency took a principled stance when, in keeping with the Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act, 2018 and the UN’s protocol against the smuggling of migrants, it decided not to penalise illegal migrants deported from Greece and Turkey, as was practiced earlier. The decision to not criminalise such people who undertake perilous journeys by land and sea is a positive one, especially in light of growing hostility towards those who risk their lives to escape conflict, discrimination and poverty in their home countries. While the majority of migrants from Pakistan are economic migrants from the small towns and villages of Punjab, they cannot be faulted for seeking the promise of a better life in other lands, something they are promised by agents and racketeers that operate under the radar. They take the route from Quetta to Iran to Turkey and finally reach Greece, where their journey often ends in limbo — or in jail — leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation. Few successfully complete the journey to mainland Europe; there are innumerable obstacles in their path, which can include bullets from border security forces, difficult terrains they must cross on foot, and a ferocious sea to be traversed in rickety boats. In 2018, 11 Pakistanis were included in the list of approximately 90 migrants who drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya. And last year, 31 Pakistani nationals were recovered from inside a truck near the France-Italy border — only a few days after the news of 39 migrants suffocating to death inside an abandoned truck in the UK created headlines around the world.
As noted by the FIA in its most recent statement, migrants are the victims of criminal mafias, not offenders, and they should be dealt with on a purely humanitarian basis, with empathy and understanding. Law enforcement must instead clamp down on all those who deceive them with false promises and try to profit off a very human desire for a chance at a better life.


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