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Dawn Editorial 25 February 2020

Trump in India

DONALD Trump and Narendra Modi are alike in many ways.
Both are political outsiders who have managed to reach the top of their respective systems through a blend of right-wing populism and maverick ideas.
Both have pushed majoritarian agendas at the expense of minorities.
Perhaps this explains the bonhomie and back-slapping between them, which was on vivid display at a cricket stadium in the Indian city of Ahmedabad on Monday, where Prime Minister Modi pulled out all the stops for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event.
Gaudy and full of clichés — much like the politics of both men — the event was seen reciprocating the ‘Howdy Modi’ episode in Houston last year, where a crowd of non-resident Indians eagerly lapped up what Messrs Modi and Trump had to offer.
Mr Modi and company have taken other steps to ensure President Trump only gets to see ‘shining’ India, covering up the warts and all that make up the ‘real’ India.
For example, a wall has been built to hide an Ahmedabad slum from the US leader’s view, while monkeys in the Gujarat city have also been rounded up. A report says some 45 simians have been bundled off to parts unknown to ensure they don’t appear in front of Mr Trump’s aircraft.
On a more serious note, Mr Modi the politician has come a long way since he was barred in 2005 from entering the US for his role in the anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom of 2002, when he was the state’s chief minister.
Today, the president of the US calls him a “tremendously successful leader”; never mind the fact that the demons of Gujarat have been summoned again by the Sangh Parivar to terrorise India’s Muslims, this time as Mr Modi sits in the prime ministerial chair.
The fact is that the anti-Muslim atmosphere in India — epitomised by the passage of divisive legislation, as well as the stifling situation in held Kashmir — will largely be ignored by the US as what matters the most is the market, in this case a market of over a billion people.
Moreover, despite all the glib talk of two ‘great democracies’, the fact is that Washington indulges New Delhi as an Asian bulwark against China, America’s rival for great power status.
Mr Trump also mentioned in his speech that he had a “very good” relationship with Pakistan, and that he hoped for peace in South Asia.
If Mr Trump really wishes to see stability in the subcontinent, he needs to tell his Indian friends that they must reduce their hostile posture where Pakistan is concerned.
This country has offered numerous times to open channels of dialogue with New Delhi, only to be rebuffed by the other side.
Also, the US leader should communicate that the situation in occupied Kashmir is unacceptable, and peace in South Asia will not be possible until a just solution to the issue has been found.


Bilawal’s criticism

PPP CHAIRMAN Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has caught the PML-N by surprise. In a loaded statement, he said Nawaz Sharif was also ‘selected’ when he became the prime minister in the 1990s after Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power. Mr Bhutto-Zardari then trained his guns on Shahbaz Sharif and criticised the leader of the opposition for his long absence from parliament. This unusual criticism by Mr Bhutto-Zardari has received a muted response from the PML-N so far and as per reports, the party has communicated its reservations to Asif Zardari. The timing of the statement has raised many eyebrows. The PML-N and PPP had been cooperating with each other inside and outside parliament to build pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The PPP leader recently announced that his party would be launching an agitation against the government in March while JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has also threatened another dharna next month. PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, meanwhile, has said that Shahbaz Sharif would return from London next month and revive his role as leader of the opposition. It remains to be seen whether the opposition will forge a common front against the government and step up the pressure. Given individual party interests and political compulsions that have often led to divisions among them, the question that many have been asking is whether the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F are capable of joining hands against the government in a sustained manner.
However, if the intention is indeed a united front against the government then Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s criticism of the Sharifs is puzzling. It could have been driven by the PPP’s local political interests in Punjab but the larger cost of such remarks does not appear to have been factored in, otherwise there might have been an attempt at damage control to maintain the loose unity of the opposition. It is possible though that the PML-N has viewed the criticism as a one-off statement that could be brushed aside for larger gains. While the timing of Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s statement is baffling, its substance is not off the mark. It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif was supported by the establishment against Benazir Bhutto and he was the direct beneficiary of her ouster. Similarly, Shahbaz Sharif’s long absence from parliament also deserves to be criticised as an abdication of his duties as leader of the opposition.


Coronavirus spreads

IT is distressing to note that the new strain of coronavirus is spreading across countries at an alarming speed, at a time when the Chinese premier had reassured the world that the virus would be under control soon. Instead, even more deaths are being reported from mainland China, where the total number of cases has swollen to over 77,000 — a massive uptick since the virus was first reported in December 2019. Meanwhile, South Korea and Italy have seen a sudden increase in the number of cases in recent days. Especially worrying for Pakistan, all four of its neighbours have now recorded cases of Covid-19 within their borders, with the Afghan health ministry confirming its first case in Herat yesterday, after three men who returned from their travels from Iran were tested and placed under quarantine. Iran itself is struggling to contain the outbreak of the virus, particularly in Qom. A global health catastrophe that has claimed more lives than the previous SARS scare of the early 2000s, the news will unfortunately continue to be peppered with a generous dose of xenophobia and politicking, but fear of the virus is not irrational.
As the death toll in Iran keeps increasing — though the exact figures continue to be debated — Afghanistan, Turkey, Armenia and Pakistan have now imposed travel restrictions and closed their borders with the country, fearing that the outbreak will spiral out of control without strict measures in place to restrict the movement of people crossing boundaries. In fact, it is a rather remarkable fact that, so far, Pakistan has yet not reported a single case, despite fears being expressed by some that the virus may already be here. If such a contagious illness were to enter the country, one can only imagine the toll it would take on the already overburdened and under-resourced healthcare system. It will be a massive challenge for the government to combat the virus, as Pakistan is already struggling to end diseases which the rest of the world eradicated many years ago such as polio.


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