HIGH in the Himalayas, an explosive situation is brewing between China and India. In a clash between both militaries on Monday at the disputed frontier along the Line of Actual Control, at least 20 Indian troops were killed. No shots are reported to have been fired; the fatalities apparently occurred during hand-to-hand combat. Both states last fought a war in 1962, in which India was humbled; however, this front has been relatively quiet since the mid-1970s. This may change as there was some tough talk from Narendra Modi on Wednesday. The Indian prime minister threatened to give “a fitting reply” if provoked, while diplomats from both states have also issued strongly worded statements, though saying they would not escalate matters.
The recent border tensions between Beijing and New Delhi have been developing for several weeks. Troops from both sides had clashed in May, though senior Chinese and Indian generals had met earlier this month to defuse the crisis. It is apparent that these efforts failed to bear fruit, as Monday’s deadly exchange shows. Beijing says India’s men attacked its troops and intruded into Chinese territory “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel” in the latest confrontation. Unfortunately, India has a history of bullying its neighbours and trying to play regional hegemon. For example, discord recently arose between India and Nepal over a disputed region also in the Himalayas. Apparently, India is not happy with the territorial claims put forward by its comparatively tiny northern neighbour. Meanwhile, Pakistan has had to bear with India’s provocations for over seven decades; to this day, our eastern neighbour continues with its salvoes across the Line of Control, which has resulted in the loss of several precious lives on our side of the LoC.
India may harbour superpower delusions and throw its weight around the region, trying to dominate smaller states while exhibiting outright hostility towards Pakistan, but militarily and economically, there is little comparison between India and China, with the latter having the upper hand, which is why India will need to proceed with far more caution on this front. As Chinese officials have rightly said, both sides should resolve the dispute through dialogue. The fact is that instead of being a regional bully, India must learn to peacefully coexist with all its neighbours in the spirit of harmony and mutual respect; this includes solving all disputes — specifically border disputes — through dialogue instead of violence and threats. Pakistan has long stressed the need to address the Kashmir question at the table, a position India has arrogantly dismissed by repeating the fiction that the occupied valley is an ‘integral’ part of its territory. In a region with three nuclear states, war is not an option, something the jingoistic elements within the Indian establishment must realise. If India pursues the policy of live and let live, it will be a much better option for South Asia.
Model Town case
THE sixth anniversary of the brutal killing outside the residence-office complex of Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri is a chilling reminder of how a clash of various interests, not least of them political, can turn a push for justice into a secondary exercise. Squabbling leads to a confused state that facilitates escape rather than the holding of a fair trial. The trend may not be peculiar to Pakistan but we witness it all too frequently in its various manifestations here. The June 17 Model Town anniversary is just one more blot on our ignominious calendar — just another instance of citizens being let down by the law of the land. There have been other incidents with smaller or bigger tolls indicating how very insecure and vulnerable to displays of unbridled street power, or deceptive murderous plotting backed by state sanction, Pakistanis can be at a bad moment. Take May 12, 2007, when Karachi was bathed in blood over an administration’s insistence on blocking a chief justice’s reception. Around 50 lives were lost. No one was ever held accountable from among the prime accused.
Six years after the Model Town killings in 2014, there are no answers to who ordered the firing. It appears that the old strategy of defusing the situation by diverting attention to less important actors and later resorting to a politicisation of the affair has worked well against the heirs of the 14 people shot to death and scores of others who were injured. Gullu Butt, a self-avowed vigilante swearing allegiance to the then incumbent PML-N government, was conveniently at the spot to divert early attention from police brutality under the provincial government of Shahbaz Sharif. Later on, Mr Qadri’s inability to delink the case from his close ties with Imran Khan, who was straining to march on Islamabad, ensured only partial support for the Model Town victims in a deeply polarised Lahore — indeed a Pakistan where Mr Qadri was not actually gaining political ground. In power, Mr Khan and his party could never have been expected to take on the system that had led to the Model Town disaster. They confined themselves to targeting the Sharifs separately from the system. Those who rose up and fell before the police that day were always at a disadvantage as they were pitted against those enjoying state sanction. The political crossfire they were caught in made justice even more elusive.
Perks for lawmakers
THE unanimous approval by a Senate panel of a bill extending the facility of free business class domestic air travel to the family members of parliamentarians is not only shocking but also an insult to the millions of poor who have just lost their jobs owing to the economic shock of the Covid-19 outbreak. The explanation given by Farooq Naek, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, that the changes made in the Members of Parliament (Salary & Allowances) Act, 1974, are merely procedural and will not be an additional burden on the exchequer doesn’t hold ground and is unacceptable in the prevalent economic situation. The changes in the act, for example, allow the family members of all parliamentarians to avail 25 unutilised business class domestic air tickets in addition to annual travel vouchers of Rs300,000. Under the amended act, a parliamentarian not interested in using vouchers will be paid an allowance equivalent to the entitled value of the vouchers. Also, the tickets or vouchers will not have an expiry date.
It would have been much better if the committee had voluntarily renounced these and similar perks in an act of solidarity with the people affected not only by a major health crisis that has killed over 3,000 across the country but also the prevailing economic crisis. The senators are quite a rich lot by most standards even if the Senate panel chairman thinks otherwise; at least none of them needs free travel entitlement at the expense of taxpayers. It is not the first time that parliamentarians have formed an alliance, which cuts across political affiliations and ideologies, to protect their privileges or arrogate to themselves more perks, benefiting their families too. Nor will it be the last. However, the voters who they claim to represent in parliament don’t expect such a blatant show of greed from them — at least not when a large majority of Pakistani citizens are struggling to protect both their jobs and lives.