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Dawn Editorial 24 January 2020

Pakistan-India ties

THE frosty ties between Pakistan and India are a matter of concern for the international community, primarily because of the fact that two nuclear-armed neighbours locking horns spells an imminent threat to world peace. However, while this country has made several peace overtures to its eastern neighbour, these have nearly all gone unanswered. Therefore, perhaps the international community needs to do much more to facilitate a positive dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi that can help defuse tensions, and usher in an era of amity in South Asia. In the current testy times, these proposals may be far-fetched, but it is in the face of such challenges that true statesmen rise above the din and make efforts for peace. On Wednesday, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Imran Khan discussed the need for the UN and the US to play a greater role in preventing tensions in South Asia. Moreover, while appearing on a local TV show, the ambassadors of Germany and France, speaking on the occasion of the anniversary of 1963’s Élysée Treaty, said President Donald Trump can play a role in bringing Pakistan and India closer, while adding that, historically, the Americans helped in uniting erstwhile enemies in Europe.
While India, stubbornly, has always insisted on settling all matters with Pakistan bilaterally, in the world of realpolitik, when powerful actors ‘advise’ others, it is difficult to ignore their suggestions, especially regarding strategic and economic ties. While India pretends to not be swayed by outside influence, if the US and EU convince the powers that be in New Delhi that better ties with Pakistan are in the best interests of the region, it will be hard for India to ignore such proposals. Mr Khan’s calls for the international community to play a greater role in helping create an atmosphere of peace in South Asia must be heeded by those that wield power in the global arena. This country has rightly condemned India’s brutal tactics in held Kashmir, as well as New Delhi’s anti-Muslim laws. But while maintaining its principled stand on these critical issues, efforts to talk peace with India should be pursued.
As for the Franco-German example, indeed there is much that both Pakistan and India can learn from that historic experience, though the European project has severely been jolted by Brexit. It is a fact that the French and Germans — mortal enemies during the Second World War — managed to move beyond a bloody history and create a close relationship under the EU umbrella. While it would be naive to copy and paste Europe’s experiences in South Asia, there is little doubt that Pakistan and India can replicate some of the best practices France and Germany have pursued to transform enmity into friendship. Perhaps the Europeans can make better use of their good offices to promote peace in South Asia.


Virus panic

ONCE again, a new strain of coronavirus is making headlines and spreading panic around the world. While not much is known about the infection at this stage, it is thought to have spread from an animal to people — with increasing fears of human-to-human transmission — and has similarities to the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s. It is being called by some as its “cousin virus”.
For now, it is simply referred to as the 2019-nCoV. Like SARS, the contagious virus attacks the respiratory system and includes symptoms of the common cold in its early stages, which can then develop into bronchitis and pneumonia, or even lead to kidney failure. The elderly, children and those with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable to its effects.
So far, there is no known antibiotic to contain its transmission, and it is indeed spreading far and wide. The first case was recorded in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan in China. Now, within a span of a few weeks, a total of at least 17 deaths have been recorded. In China, over 570 cases have been detected, while symptoms of the virus have been found in a host of neighbouring places — Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and South Korea — and as far off as the United States, which recorded its first case on Jan 21.
As a result, strict travel restrictions have been imposed on Wuhan and some other Chinese cities. And while the World Health Organisation has postponed its decision to declare a global health emergency, necessary precautions must be taken to curtail its spread. Airports, in particular, must remain vigilant, even if it results in some inconvenience and increased air traffic in arrivals and departures, with millions of people expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holidays over the weekend.
Like other countries around the world, Pakistan too has begun screening passengers arriving from China at the Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports, while hospitals have been notified and instructed to pay close attention to symptoms of cold, cough, fever or pneumonia in patients who have recently returned from China.
Pakistan already has a host of viruses to battle against, ranging from the polio to the Congo virus. With its strained healthcare system; it cannot afford new infections. Many Chinese citizens live in Pakistan, and while one cannot endorse unnecessary fear and panic that quickly turns into xenophobia for some, the state must remain vigilant.


Media in chains

SADLY, the Pakistan Media Freedom Report 2019 by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors contains little that is new or reassuring for journalists in the country. Indeed, it underscores the intimidating conditions in which they are compelled to work. According to the report, at least seven media persons were killed — murders that remain unsolved — and the press continued to face extreme threats to its functioning during 2019. Around 60 journalists, including 50 from Sindh alone, were booked in 35 cases under anti-terrorism and other laws. One of them, Chaudhry Nasrullah, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for possessing banned literature, the first such conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act. In a pattern similar to last year, the report holds “mysterious and unidentified actors” as posing the biggest threat to press freedom, followed by non-state elements and outlawed militant groups.
However, the fact is that whichever quarter the threat emanates from, the buck stops with the government. And unfortunately the media environment has deteriorated further under the current dispensation. From boots-on-the-ground journalists to others such as editors, directors news, etc, who work behind the scenes, all are affected. The media as a whole is at the receiving end of a sustained campaign that seeks to micromanage how news stories are handled, which topics/events are covered and which ones are dropped. Live interviews of opposition figures have been stopped midway, TV channels taken off air for broadcasting press conferences by out-of-favour politicians, news anchors (temporarily) ordered not to offer opinions on talk shows, not even their own — and this is only a partial list. Resistance comes at a price: media outlets have seen their revenue streams choked, circulation disrupted through strong-arm methods, threats of violence hurled by ‘participants’ at manufactured protests, etc. The result is a chill descending on what should be a vibrant profession with a questioning spirit. A government that cannot tolerate an independent media or protect journalists has but a tenuous claim to democratic credentials.


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