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Dawn Editorial 24 May 2020

A sad Eid

THE despondency over the increasing number of coronavirus infections that have claimed over 1,000 lives in Pakistan has been compounded by Friday’s PIA air crash that killed 97, robbing the country of whatever little joy had been left at the prospect of Eid festivities. Indeed, rather than celebrating, the nation will find the day an occasion for sober reflection on a global health crisis and a national tragedy. The socialising that normally characterises Eid has been replaced by social distancing. Far from embracing each other, the coronavirus forbids even a handshake. Masks hide smiling faces, and one cannot dine out with relatives at home or at eateries. If all the SOPs, imposed by terror-stricken governments everywhere, are observed — and they should be as the mayhem the virus has unleashed is far greater than any sense of privation — one would not even be able to take a stroll in the neighbourhood park or the beach. Some have gone so far as to say that the SOPs hold sway over our fundamental rights, among them the freedom of assembly. On a lighter note, some of history’s most ruthless dictators must be turning in their graves out of sheer jealousy because Covid-19 now exercises over billions of people the power they wished they could have wielded.
We can turn our thoughts to the brighter side of life and hope that by the time we observe the next Eidul Fitr, the pandemic would be a thing of the past. But what will take years to end is the pitiable condition of millions of Muslims the world over — poverty, war and persecution have led to much suffering. Many Muslims are refugees, some in their own country and others outside it. Unceasing fratricidal wars have pulverised state structures and pauperised the citizenry. As depressing are certain religious tendencies that promote violence or an extremist discourse that have seen states capitulate — as in our case where sections of the clergy have resisted the measures taken to lessen the threat of the virus. This governmental powerlessness highlights the prevalence of an ambience hostile to reason and science. No wonder scientists of the Muslim world prefer to work in ‘infidel’ states where their talents are recognised and honoured. The other day, President Donald Trump named Moncef Slaoui, a Moroccan-born pharma specialist, as one of two experts charged with developing a coronavirus vaccine. In the country of his origin, Mr Slaoui would have been sitting idle.
These are all thoughts for Eid day. Perhaps it will help Muslim countries including Pakistan resolve to break out of their intellectual inertia and focus attention on creating a milieu that encourages the uninhibited pursuit of liberal knowledge. The OIC has done nothing to encourage scientific research in the Muslim world in spite of the enormous wealth of many of its members. That must change.


Crash investigation

HEART-RENDING stories from the PK-8303 crash on Friday have been trickling through: entire families wiped out, a son coming home on a surprise Eid visit to his parents who will never see him alive again, a young woman returning from a funeral in Lahore only to herself perish, and so on. At least 97 people are confirmed dead, with an unknown number on the ground sustaining injuries when the aircraft came down in a crowded residential locality just off the Karachi airport. Two passengers miraculously survived — pinpricks of light in an otherwise desperately sad episode. The survivors and their families, and the public at large, deserve to know the answer to the question: what led to the flight’s catastrophic end? There has been much speculation, largely based on the last few moments of the cockpit crew’s communication with the air control tower, which is grossly little information to go on. PIA on Saturday released a summary on the technical history of this particular Airbus A-320 which said there was “no defect related to the engine, landing gear or major aircraft system”.
The plane crash must be investigated in a transparent manner so the findings are credible and provide the families the most definitive answer possible as to why their loved ones died. However, eyebrows are already being raised over the composition of the team formed by the government to probe the disaster with oversight from the Special Investigation Board. Of the four members that have been named, three belong to the air force. The CEO of PIA happens to be Air Marshal Arshad Mahmood Malik; the PAF officers on the committee are all junior to him in rank. Surely there are worthy civilians who could acquit themselves equally well in their task and whose objectivity, or deference to a senior air force officer, would not be an issue? The pilots’ association has also asked that it, and international aviation bodies, be involved in the probe. Independent plane crash investigation bodies worldwide usually do include airline pilots and co-opt personnel from the relevant aircraft manufacturer. Doubts about how the inquiry into the crash of PK-8303 will unfold are not misplaced. After all, it has been nearly four years since another PIA flight, PK-661, crashed en route to Islamabad from Chitral. Yet the SIB has still not released its final report that explains why 48 people had their lives cut short that day.


Saving the elephant

MARGHAZAR Zoo’s sole elephant will be freed. On Thursday, the Islamabad High Court took notice of the poor living conditions at the zoo and condemned the authorities for their cruel treatment of Kaavan, who is said to have been repeatedly beaten and starved, in violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890, and the Wildlife Ordinance of 1979. For over three decades, the animal suffered in silence in a small enclosure, often chained, and reportedly showed signs of severe mental distress. Elephants, in particular, are complex mammals that experience many of the same emotions as humans: joy, grief, terror, wrath and compassion. They have long memories, build strong family bonds and require companionship. In the wild, they live in herds, but Kaavan was forced to live in solitude for years. His plight gained international attention, most notably of American singer and actor Cher, who sent out a series of ecstatic tweets after hearing of the court’s decision. Earlier, an online petition for his release garnered more than 280,000 signatures.
While Kaavan’s story may have a happy ending thanks to the sustained efforts of animal rights activists, many others continue to languish inside pitiful conditions that are far away from their natural habitats. One of the popular arguments for zoos is that it encourages wildlife conservation. However, it seems as if the animals are brought to Pakistan to die. Many are visibly emaciated or suffering from disease. Just last month, according to one report, Marghazar Zoo authorities said they did not have adequate medical facilities; the year before that, they admitted before the Islamabad High Court that they did not have the funds needed to take care of the animals. Next month, Kaavan may be living in an elephant sanctuary, as directed by the IHC, but there has to be a broader conversation about the use of animals for entertainment, the relevancy of zoos in this day and age, and the limits of our compassion.


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