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Dawn Editorial 19 May 2020

Kabul deal

APART from the myriad problems facing Afghanistan — decades of war, militancy, a barely functioning state, etc — the infighting amongst the Kabul elite has hobbled all efforts to address problems in an effective manner. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon, as for decades militia leaders, warlords and strongmen have jostled for the throne of Kabul, which has resulted in the collapse of governance in Afghanistan, and the emergence of semi-autonomous fiefdoms within the country based on ethnic and tribal lines. Even after the American invasion and the fall of the Afghan Taliban, the US and their Nato allies failed to ‘build’ a functioning state. For example, the Ashraf Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah partnership that started in 2014 ended up in acrimony. While the Afghan election commission had declared Mr Ghani victorious in last year’s presidential election, Mr Abdullah cried foul and declared himself leader of the country. However, after much bitterness both men seem to have reconciled, apparently after considerable ‘prodding’ by the Americans, as they signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday to end the impasse.
It would be naïve to assume that the deal will lead to a perfectly functioning dispensation in Kabul; expectations should be realistic and not too high, as the relationship between both men is tenuous. However, for the sake of Afghanistan, they will need to sink their differences and maintain a working relationship, or else the considerable challenges their country faces will overwhelm them. For example, the peace deal that the Americans signed with the Taliban is close to death; major efforts are needed to revive it. Unless this deal succeeds, an intra-Afghan settlement will be difficult to reach. Moreover, the bloodthirsty fighters of the IS-Khorasan chapter are waiting in the wings to pounce. The recent diabolical attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul, believed to have been the handiwork of IS, shows that the terrorist group can easily reach the capital. Also, if the Ghani-Abdullah combine fails to function, there will be a major financial crisis; the Afghan government suffered a blow when Washington cut funds as ‘punishment’ for infighting in Kabul. And with Covid-19 cases threatening the feeble Afghan health system, a paralysis in governance will only make matters worse for the Afghan people.
Considering these challenges, Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah will have to make greater efforts to deliver good governance to their people, and above all tolerate each other. If petty infighting and power games continue, the Kabul elite will not stand a chance against the various threats they face from militant actors. Moreover, unless there is unity within the government, the Taliban will not take them seriously and the bloody battle for the control of Afghanistan will continue. And as events have shown, IS and terrorists of their ilk will gain the most from a state of chaos.


Manhandling medics

REPORTS that members of the public are resorting to ransacking hospitals and beating up medical workers are extremely worrying. Multiple incidents of individuals assaulting staff at hospitals have surfaced. In the first, attendants and relatives of a patient at Karachi’s JPMC vandalised the coronavirus isolation ward after being refused permission to take the deceased patient’s body home. In a second incident at the same hospital, a doctor was attacked by relatives of a patient thought to be infected by the coronavirus and who passed away after being brought in with a cough and shortness of breath. More recently, a group of unruly youths went on the rampage at the Red Crescent Hospital in Hyderabad after being asked to observe the government-prescribed SOPs while entering and staying in the health facility. They roughed up several staff members and caused extensive damage to the hospital’s property after being told to wear face masks. Fortunately, police arrived at the hospital while the rampage was still going on and managed to arrest four suspects.
These incidents are alarming. Just like in other countries, doctors and medical staff in Pakistan are on the front line and are essential to the battle being fought against the pandemic. With full knowledge of the potentially fatal nature of the coronavirus and its high rate of transmission, these professionals are putting themselves and their family members — including those who are immuno-compromised — at great risk by continuing to attend to patients. Hundreds of healthcare providers in the country have already tested positive for Covid-19. Incidents of assault on medical workers and hospital staff are unacceptable, particularly under these circumstances. While it is commendable that these hospitals remain steadfast in enforcing SOPs for coronavirus wards and patients, their staff deserves better protection. All provincial authorities must engage with hospital administrations to understand how better security can be provided to staff. Government officials must also reflect on how they can improve their messaging and awareness campaigns to address the fears of citizens. Understandably, learning of the death of a loved one can be upsetting and the Covid-19 SOPs for the washing of the body can take a further toll on the emotional well-being of the family. Authorities must address these challenges and devise solutions so SOPs can be enforced with minimum pain for the family — all the while giving utmost protection to hospital staff. In any humane society, hospital staff must be respected and protected at all cost.


Mayor’s suspension

THE federal government has suspended the mayor of Islamabad Shaikh Anser Aziz for 90 days on the recommendation of a PTI-dominated local government commission. The commission had argued for the mayor’s suspension so that an inquiry against his alleged corruption could be initiated. The mayor’s party PML-N has protested the move by the federal government and termed it a coup d’état. The two members of the commission from the opposition parties have also cried foul, saying the commission initiated this surprise move when they were not present at the meeting due to their parliamentary commitments.
This radical move comes in the wake of many months of tension and tug of war between the PML-N mayor and the PTI local leadership that dominates affairs in Islamabad Capital Territory. By resorting to such a decision, the federal government has signalled that it will brook no opposition regardless of the fact that the mayor is an elected official. The mayor has now moved court. However, the decision of the federal cabinet is bound to further ratchet up political tension at a time when the nation is battling the scourge of Covid-19. The decision is needlessly provocative and ill-timed. If there were festering issues, there were many other ways to address them instead of going for the extreme step of suspending an elected official. It also reinforces the perception that the PTI in power is not willing to accommodate the opposition in the spirit of representative democracy. This tolerance deficit is a dangerous trend that can lead to a weakening of the system at a time when Pakistan requires the system to be further strengthened. It is unfortunate that the PTI leadership is adamant in its inflexibility towards the opposition and is unwilling to reach across the aisle to build a working relationship in the larger interest of the people. This latest misadventure is bound to create legal and political ripples that will create instability and further vitiate the atmosphere in the country.


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