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Dawn Editorial 2 September 2020

Pak-Afghan dialogue

THOUGH Pakistan and Afghanistan share a border, as well as historical, cultural and demographic ties, the relationship has been less than cordial in the modern era. Ties were especially strained during the Afghan jihad, as the pro-Soviet government in Kabul at the time and Islamabad were in two diametrically opposed ideological camps, with this country backing the Mujahideen. Later, while Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognise the Afghan Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan, ties failed to improve after the Americans sent the armed Islamist group packing in late 2001. However, the process initiated through the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity, which started in 2018, offers both sides a chance to help improve ties in a mutually beneficial manner. Bilateral meetings under this framework were held in Kabul on Monday, with the foreign secretary leading the Pakistani delegation.
The action plan covers a gamut of areas, namely political and diplomatic exchanges, military ties as well as the economic sphere. Indeed, if such high-level exchanges continue regularly, the mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad can be reduced and a more constructive relationship can be built. This will no doubt be difficult, as there are some in Kabul’s corridors of power that bear a long-standing grudge against Pakistan, while certain states in the region will not want Afghanistan and this country to forge closer ties. These irritants must be ignored and both capitals must work hard to improve relations. While some in Kabul may criticise Pakistan for ‘supporting’ the Afghan Taliban, the fact is that the armed group is an undeniable reality on the Afghan political scene, which is why even the US — which politically and militarily backs the Afghan government — has signed a peace deal with the militia. The foreign secretary reiterated this reality when he told his interlocutors in Kabul that intra-Afghan peace must be pursued with “perseverance and unflinching commitment”.
Moreover, the presence of the self-styled Islamic State group in ungoverned parts of Afghanistan is a grave security threat for both countries, as well as the region. In fact, some of this country’s most notorious terrorists have taken refuge with their ideological comrades across the border. Let both capitals work together to eliminate this common threat, along with pushing forward the Afghan peace process. Also, in future if any misunderstanding does emerge between the two sides, let them discuss it through diplomatic channels in a rational manner, instead of resorting to mudslinging in full public view. It would be naive to assume that mutual distrust will melt away overnight. However, the action plan is an excellent forum to resolve thorny issues standing in the way of better ties. It is hoped that this forum is utilised to its full potential, and that a more cordial chapter is opened in Pak-Afghan ties marked by trust and cooperation.



Residents’ protest

LAST week’s monsoon rains in Karachi have wreaked havoc on its upscale and lower-income areas alike. Well-heeled residents of the ‘posh’ Defence Housing Authority, furious at the collapse of civic services on account of the downpour, gathered on Monday to protest outside the office of the Cantonment Board Clifton which provides municipal cover to DHA (and a large number of other localities within its jurisdiction). They demanded that top DHA and CBC officials resign, that inundated areas in Defence Society be drained and water, gas and power supplies restored expeditiously. In the long run, they pressed for the reconstruction of infrastructure, accountability of officials and a forensic audit of CBC and DHA accounts. At one point, irked by the absence of any CBC or DHA official to come and speak with them, the protesters forced their way into the building, leaving the policemen present at the site flummoxed as to how to respond to a mob comprising the ‘elite’.
After decades of neglect, a sustained improvement in Karachi’s civic services can only be achieved through comprehensive, structural reform. Piecemeal and superficial measures, taken along the same fragmented lines of authority as exist today in the city are not the answer. The metropolis must have a unified command structure for consistency of services and accountability of personnel. In the administrative hotchpotch that prevails at present, everyone passes the buck and no one is held responsible. Some anomalies are immediately obvious, such as the jurisdiction of cantonments, of which there are six in Karachi. As per the Cantonment Act 1924, cantonments are defined as “any place … in which any part of the regular forces or the regular air force of Pakistan is quartered … or is required for the service of such forces…”. With reference to Monday’s protest, what is the rationale for Clifton Cantonment to sprawl over an area of 9,953 acres when its operational area is only 58 acres? To comply with the law would also mean a belated implementation of a Supreme Court judgement in 2007 that ordered civilian areas to be excluded from the cantonment boards through a notification by the defence ministry. With the prime minister to shortly visit Karachi, this is the time for the Sindh government to demonstrate its willingness to appoint a fully empowered city administrator. There must be a governance pyramid for the metropolis, with the administrator’s office at the very top.



Qatar’s labour changes

THE migrant workers of Qatar have lifted the trophy well ahead of the FIFA World Cup scheduled to be played in 2022 in the Gulf country. The government in Doha has just done away with a law that made the employer’s consent mandatory to switch jobs. Along with this, the workers will be entitled to a minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($274). Qatar’s hosting of the international sporting event brought it into sharp focus on the global stage. This proved to be a boon for labour rights unions in the country where migrant workers were beholden to the kafeel or sponsor for whatever jobs they managed to land. The no-objection certificate that they required in order to change jobs was a favour the sponsor could easily deny them, leaving the employees vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation in a foreign land. It will soon be possible for any employer or employee in Qatar to end a contract by providing a month’s “written notice in the first two years of the contract or two months’ notice beyond the second year of the contract”. Errant employers will face penalties far more severe than the ones that have been in place until now.
To get an idea of just how ungenerous these bosses can be, the unprecedented relief announced by the government provides for an amount of 500 riyals for accommodation and 300 riyals for food, if these are not given directly. This is a case which highlights the urgency to not just simplify but also humanise the rules that affect so many lives. All this could have a huge impact on Qatar which is seeking greater economic openness to attract investment. The 2022 football tournament could well turn out to be one of the many goals of excellence for the ambitious country. Also, these new labour laws could blaze a trail for workers stuck in extremely oppressive conditions in other Gulf states where the same kafala or sponsorship system is in place.


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