THE visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that wrapped up on Friday was marked by warmth and consensus on a number of key issues with Pakistan, as this country’s top brass heard the Turkish leader address a joint session of parliament for the fourth time. Indeed, in the international arena Ankara is one of Islamabad’s closest allies, and the AKP-led dispensation that leads Turkey has consistently supported strong ties with this country. Mr Erdogan raised his voice for the oppressed people of India-held Kashmir, noting that New Delhi’s brutal approach to the region “aggravates the situation” and “does not bring any benefit to anyone”. Apparently the Turkish leader’s frank comments stung those calling the shots in New Delhi, as the Indian external affairs ministry called upon “the Turkish leadership not to interfere in India’s internal affairs”. Far from interfering, Mr Erdogan was actually calling India out for its brutality in occupied Kashmir, something that many others in the international community have failed to do. The Turkish president also hailed Pakistan’s efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, along with supporting this country’s stance on the FATF issue.
It is a fact that the people of the subcontinent have had emotional, cultural and religious ties to Turkey for centuries. In the modern era, both in the pre-Partition years and after independence, the Muslims of the subcontinent, and later the people of Pakistan have felt a sense of kinship with the Turks. In the Cold War era, both states were bound together under the American umbrella, though ties have matured further over the decades. Like Pakistan, Turkey too has seen long patches of military rule, as the generals overthrew one elected government after another in Ankara on the flimsiest of pretexts. However, under the AKP, civilian supremacy has been largely established, though there has been valid criticism that Turkey has been moving in a more authoritarian direction, especially in the aftermath of the aborted 2016 coup.
Both Pakistan and Turkey should work to enrich their relationship bilaterally as well as at multilateral forums. Mr Erdogan raised valid concerns about the plight of Palestinians during his speech, and Pakistan’s other Muslim friends should not feel threatened by the efforts of Ankara, Islamabad and others to strengthen the ummah. The Turkish leader also thanked Pakistan for its support for Ankara’s operation against the Syrian Kurds last year, while Prime Minister Imran Khan has been quoted as saying that this country stands with Turkey regarding recent hostilities in Syria. If the prime minister was referring to clashes between Turkish forces that have entered Syria and troops loyal to Damascus in the province of Idlib, then there is a need to proceed with caution. Pakistan values its cordial relationship with Turkey, but must not become a party to any bilateral dispute involving Damascus and Ankara.
PM’s treason talk
PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has triggered another controversy by saying that JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman should be charged for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution.
Speaking to journalists, the prime minister said that Maulana Fazlur Rehman had admitted that he had been given a signal to come to Islamabad to topple the government. He said he wanted to know who had given the maulana such a signal.
The maulana had ended his dharna last year saying that he had been given a guarantee that the government would be sent packing in 2020 and fresh elections would be held. The prime minister argued on Friday that this amounted to treason. The opposition has reacted strongly to his statement and the JUI-F leadership has dared the prime minister to charge their leader with treason.
It may all turn out to be a storm in a teacup. However the statement does raise some disturbing concerns about the line of thinking that prevails in government quarters.
The casual use of the word ‘treason’ and Article 6 — and all that it implies — undermines the gravity of the actual charge.
It is not meant to settle political scores and make life difficult for opponents and therefore when it is used for such a purpose, it demeans the actual intention.
It is ironic that the prime minister is accusing Maulana Fazlur Rehman of treason for his dharna when Mr Khan himself, along with his party, has staged a much longer protest in Islamabad in the past.
Standing on his container everyday for months on end, Mr Khan would call for the overthrow of the then government. The people who had gathered for the dharna attacked parliament and the PTV headquarters and attempted to storm Prime Minister House till they were stopped by the law-enforcement agencies.
It is therefore rather surprising that he chooses to ignore these events and accuses the maulana of treason when the JUI-F leader camped in an open ground and his men did not resort to violence of any kind.
The prime minister might want to brush up on his knowledge of Article 6 in order to put it in the right context. When we have not been able to apply this article to those who abrogated the Constitution, it is rather unfair of him to brandish it so casually. Talk of treason should not be taken lightly by anyone, including the prime minister.
National polio drive
AFTER the emergence of 13 polio cases from across the country in less than a couple of months this year, the first five-day national vaccination drive commences tomorrow to immunise around 40m children of the country. Maximum effort is required to make this campaign a success considering that the tally so far this year is already more than the total number of cases reported in 2017. In contrast, there were 12 and eight cases in 2018 and 2017 respectively. Given the managerial blunders and organisational mishaps that occurred last year, polio cases in the country rose to a devastating 144. The alarming increase resulted in a three-month polio-related travel restriction by WHO; it is crucial that the same mistakes are not repeated in the ongoing immunisation efforts. There were allegations of corruption which resulted in the ouster of the prime minister’s focal person on polio; there were also multiple incidents of the accidental use of expired vaccine which is said to have led to the re-emergence of the wild poliovirus type 2 that had been eradicated in 2014. Besides, flawed vaccination drives resulted in a significant number of children not being administered the vaccine. The situation was exacerbated when health officials stooped to playing politics by blaming past administrations for their own incompetence. This was in addition to their failure to share details of the actual coverage of the vaccination drives.
As recently as December, health officials had happily declared polio eradication efforts to be back on track with 100pc immunisation coverage. This claim was made despite the fact that expired vaccine had been administered to scores of children in Rawalpindi and at least 30,000 children had not been immunised in Sindh. The health of the country’s children is not a matter to be taken lightly, as it is by our political and bureaucratic systems. The national polio authorities need to immediately get down to work if they want to even begin controlling the monster they let out.