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Dawn Editorial 2 January 2020

Decline in terrorism

PAKISTAN is making reassuringly steady progress out of the grip of militancy. According to the latest report on terrorism-related violence in 2019 by the Centre for Research for Security Studies, 518 people died in around 370 terrorist attacks last year.
The number of fatalities — which includes civilians, security and government personnel, and militants — is 30pc less than in 2018, when 739 lives were lost in approximately 400 attacks. The extent of improvement is even more starkly illustrated when compared with terrorism-related fatalities in 2013 that, as per the CRSS, numbered over 4,600.
Suicide attacks have similarly shown a precipitous decline, plunging from 26 in 2018 to nine last year — with 295 and 56 deaths, respectively. 2019 also marks the first year since 2004 in which no drone strike took place. Of the 141 militants arrested last year, the highest number was from the TTP (32) followed by the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (11).
The conclusion is incontrovertible: after nearly two decades of gut-wrenching violence that claimed thousands of innocent lives and left a trail of devastation in its wake, Pakistan has turned a corner. This has much to do with the kinetic operations that the security forces have undertaken in the northern areas.
Consider the rate of decline in civilian fatalities: in 2014 — the year that Zarb-i-Azb was launched — they numbered 2,590 — including the 141 who perished in the APS massacre. In 2015, by which time terrorist groups like the TTP were under pressure and many of their fighters on the run, 1,146 civilians had been slain.
However, the seeds of militancy will continue to produce their deadly harvest until each and every vestige of their existence has been rooted out. That takes patience and diligence from all segments of society. It was only last week that the Punjab CTD, after an operation in Gujranwala, claimed to have busted a media cell of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
A few months ago, the Sindh CTD announced it had busted a splinter cell of the AQIS in Karachi. According to the law-enforcement agency, the group comprised individuals who had returned from Afghanistan and were planning to carry out attacks in the city.
Earlier, on March 22, there was an assassination attempt on well-known religious scholar Maulana Taqi Usmani, in which three of his aides were killed. There are also geopolitical factors that in tandem with ideological objectives can spill over into our country, such as when Pakistan became a theatre for sectarian violence in a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the 1980s.
Presently, the never-ending strife in Afghanistan and the foothold that the militant Islamic State group has found there, particularly in provinces contiguous with Pakistan, are cause for concern. We are fighting an implacable enemy and, while the latest figures are encouraging and show that the country is headed in the right direction, complacency is not an option.

 
 

Climate 2020

THE decade past had begun with predictions of an impending climate change catastrophe, and it has ended with the reality of not paying closer attention to those warnings. Apocalyptic scenarios had been imagined by evidence-backed scientists — and not doomsday merchants — who foretold that the extreme weather patterns would only worsen in the coming years, as global temperatures kept increasing and sea levels continued to rise. Ten years ago, extreme heatwaves were documented in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Russia; a drought gripped the Amazon River basin; and heavy snowstorms swept across North America. In Pakistan, powerful floods caused by heavy rainfall led to over 2,000 deaths, while millions of others were displaced. They were forced into becoming climate change refugees, as their homes and livelihoods were swept away by the waters. Now, as we enter the new decade, rising global temperatures have broken all previous records, with many countries recording extreme weather patterns. In 2019, hurricanes struck the island of Puerto Rico; Europe suffered two deadly heatwaves; and cyclones devastated the Bahamas and Japan. Meanwhile, thousands of fires gripped the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and bordering Bolivia in August. And ferocious bush fires first sparked in November continue to rage in Australia.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that climate change has been the burning issue of the previous decade, at a time of other great social and political upheaval. In September 2019, millions of people from 150 countries participated in the Climate Strike. But despite all the talk and the meetings, and despite increasing awareness and activism around the issue, it does not seem like the change we need is here yet. It is time to reimagine our global economies, because the current systems for creating wealth are simply not sustainable. Right now, as wildfires sweep through some parts of the world, other areas are suffering from extreme cold. In just a few days, Bangladesh has witnessed over 50 deaths this winter. In Pakistan, a cold wave is sweeping through the country, particularly hitting hard the northern areas, with the prime minister directing his party’s governments in KP and Punjab to provide temporary shelter to the homeless. As we welcome the new year, the world’s leaders and decision-makers must put climate at the forefront of their agendas. May 2020 be the year of decisive action, and not merely words.

 
 

Health crises

THE past year proved to be injurious to the collective health of Pakistanis. The already paltry federal health budget was further slashed by half as the challenge appeared to worsen with several disease outbreaks — eg, dengue, HIV/AIDS, XDR-typhoid and polio. This was also pointed out by the Pakistan Medical Association in a statement issued on the first day of the new year. It is evident that much of the deteriorating state of the nation’s health can be attributed to government negligence. So much could have been avoided. Had the government taken timely measures, the aftermath of the 2019 monsoon would not have seen such high numbers of dengue cases in Punjab and Sindh or XDR-typhoid in the latter province. According to the PMA, more than 50,000 cases of dengue fever were reported across the country in 2019, nearly double the figure in the preceding decade. Meanwhile, in August alone, as many as 4,700 cases of XDR-typhoid were reported in Sindh with 3,000 in Karachi — the authorities would have done well to launch a vaccination drive in the city, and not only in schools. There were also two separate outbreaks of HIV/AIDS in 2019 — in Sargodha and in Larkana district — only a couple of months apart. Shockingly, more than 700 victims of the HIV/AIDS outbreak in Larkana were children. What must also be mentioned is the shortage of/lack of access to the rabies vaccine, which was reportedly responsible for the painful deaths of some 30 people in Sindh. And, new polio cases kept emerging throughout the year, with the total national tally reaching 119.
The PMA is right in pointing out that the lack of proper planning, political will and a timely response aggravated the intensity and prevalence of these illnesses. As we usher in 2020 as the ‘year of economic growth’, it should be remembered that serious diseases will continue to afflict the people of Pakistan even beyond the current year. Sick nations seldom travel far, but improved healthcare could ensure economic progress.

 
 

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