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Dawn Editorial 3 September 2020

Time to come back

IN addition to the political necessity of his return, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif must now comply with the Islamabad High Court’s decision that he appear before the judges by Sept 10. The court agrees with the argument that Mr Sharif can no more be considered on bail and could well carry the absconder’s tag if he fails to face the law within the stipulated period. The PML-N’s first reaction to the ruling has been in line with its position on Mr Sharif’s stay abroad after the legal battle that had eventually managed to get him out of jail. The party says that “Mian sahib wants to come back … but he will only return after the completion of his treatment”. This is where the debate once more enters the complicated phase as alien-sounding medical terms clash with the legal lingo thrown in by the opposing lawyers.
However, the political choice before one of the country’s most popular and influential leaders — and one who is leading one of its biggest political parties — should be clear-cut: accept the challenge and return to take command of an opposition that has been stuck in a rut. Where the PML-N is concerned, matters have been allowed to stagnate for far too long and it makes little political sense for Mr Sharif to stay away, letting the entire ruling set-up comprising Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI and government allies take regular aim at a confused and divided PML-N. If this is indeed the right prescription for the PML-N, it is very likely that the Sharifs who virtually own their creation may not agree with the course. They might still opt for a tactic that keeps Mr Sharif secure and away from jail — a strategy that would be in conformity with its usual practice of playing it safe. In contrast, the new-wave PML-N advisers say that this old style is not suited to the current PML-N realities and the role that is demanded of it.
The legal and medical mumbo jumbo that surrounds Mr Sharif may protect the PML-N leader from the pains of incarceration. It may also give him and his closest associates, including his daughter Maryam Nawaz, some unwanted publicity as adventurers not really going for the target wholeheartedly. It is a mystery what deal had landed an evidently ailing Mr Sharif in London. That was then but of late it had appeared that Ms Nawaz, an echo of her father, had finally chosen to assert herself in national politics. Any step at this moment that appears to seek some kind of relief from the system under the incumbent rulers could come across as a sign of weakness to many in the crowd. The politically savvy would say this is a time for standing with and ahead of others against what the Pakistani opposition calls witch-hunting.



Saving the deal

DUE mostly to the rash decisions of the Trump administration, the Iran nuclear deal has been dealt several mortal blows, and if urgent measures are not taken, the agreement may soon be history. However, some positive movement was made in this regard on Tuesday when the other signatories of the deal — minus the US, which pulled out in 2018 — met in Vienna. An EU official who chaired the talks tweeted that the participants of the meeting were “united in resolve to preserve” the agreement. Moreover, a Chinese official commented that while Tehran needed to return to “full compliance … the economic benefit that is due to Iran needs to be provided”. The Chinese official also criticised the US for “making a mockery of international law [in its] attempt to sabotage … the JCPOA”, using the official abbreviation of the deal.
Clearly, in the opinion of the deal’s signatories, including some of America’s closest allies in Europe, the nuclear agreement is worth saving. This serves as a strong critique of Donald Trump’s foreign policy, particularly his handling of the Iran file, as the world community is in no mood to see a fresh confrontation emerge in the Middle East. Moreover, Iran did the right thing recently by allowing IAEA inspectors access to a number of suspected nuclear sites. As the world continues to be battered by health and economic crises, instead of fanning the flames all states need to find diplomatic solutions to geopolitical problems. This is exactly what the JCPOA was designed to do, until the Trump White House did all it could to scuttle the deal. As the US presidential election approaches, Mr Trump and his advisers may try to look even tougher on Iran to please the evangelicals, a key component of the US president’s vote bank. However, enough damage has been done in this regard. The deal must be saved, which is why the US should abandon its confrontational posture and let Iran resume economic activities with the world. If Tehran — under tremendous strain due to US sanctions — fails to reap the financial benefits of the deal, it may also abandon it, as its leaders have clearly indicated. To prevent such a scenario, the signatories of the JCPOA must continue to pressure the US to return to the deal. The next few months will show whether diplomacy triumphs, or bellicosity carries the day where the nuclear deal is concerned.



Covid-19 complacency

GOING by the ease and laxity with which public gatherings are taking place in the country, it is as if the Covid-19 pandemic were over. This is far from the truth. The coronavirus is still very much a threat in Pakistan and the reasons for the miraculously lowered curve remain a mystery. Recent stats are noteworthy: on Wednesday, the figures on the NCOC website showed that 18 people had succumbed to the virus in the previous 24 hours while 441 had tested positive. Active Covid-19 cases across cities stand at over 8,800 — a figure which can multiply given the high transmissibility rate of the virus. Despite this, public gatherings continue unabated, with little care for distancing and mask-wearing. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned this week: “No country can just pretend the pandemic is over.” He said, “The reality is this virus spreads easily. Opening up without control is a recipe for disaster.”
This advisory should be taken very seriously by the federal and provincial governments, who must keep a watchful eye on the Covid-19 graph — especially in light of schools’ reopening and last week’s flood relief efforts and Muharram processions. With the resumption of economic activity, distancing and SOPs must be followed by small and large businesses, especially where more than a handful of people are expected to gather. Authorities must be vigilant about monitoring and enforcing the rules. They should also acknowledge that it is unclear what has lowered Pakistan’s Covid-19 curve and that carelessness can push the country back to the dark days where a rapid spread forced shutdowns. There are many cities where second waves have occurred because of a failure to communicate with the public and the flouting of SOPs. Here, contingency plans are key to mitigating the devastating impact that Covid-19 and ensuing lockdowns can have on the healthcare infrastructure and economy. We cannot afford to be careless. At no point should the celebration and relief of having avoided an all-out disaster lull the authorities into a false sense of security.


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