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Dawn Editorial 30 May 2020

New locust attack

A FRESH swarm of locusts is on its way from Africa to Pakistan. It is expected to arrive here in early July, according to Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Shibli Faraz. We are not aware of the size of the swarm travelling towards Pakistan at present. But it is quite clear that when the crop-eating hoppers from Africa join the local infestations that have already invaded a significantly large area, we will witness the massive destruction of crops as well as rural livelihoods across the country. In a report released a few weeks back, the FAO had warned of “a potentially serious food security crisis” and significant livelihood losses unless urgent action is taken to contain local breeding by the pests. The FAO estimates of potential crop and livelihood losses owing to the new wave of locust attacks over the next several months are quite staggering at a time when the economy is already teetering on the brink because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The minister claimed that the government had formulated a national strategy and made adequate preparations to tackle the locust plague, which had appeared in Pakistan after 27 years, and a national locust control cell was being set up to effectively control the threat. However, it remains unclear as to why the government has been slow to respond to the plague in spite of the alarm raised by the affected farmers as early as last summer after the hoppers attacked and destroyed a significant part of their crops, as well as consistent warnings by international agencies. While the federal government declared an emergency in February to combat the plague, little was done to prevent local breeding and new infestations across 38pc of the country’s total land area in recent months. The FAO report had also blamed insufficient efforts to control breeding and the formation of new swarms for the rapid growth of local locust infestations.
The efforts to control the locust invasion in the country have so far been inadequate and disjointed at best. The Sindh Abadgar Board, a growers’ body, has drawn attention to the absence of coordination between the federal government and the province in the face of the looming danger. Politics has kept the centre and Sindh from uniting their resources and cooperating in order to respond effectively to the threat — to the detriment of the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and food security. The official response to the locust attack in the other provinces has not been satisfactory either. In most parts, farmers have been left to tackle the menace on their own. All stakeholders should realise that time is of the essence in the fight against the crop-eating pests, and they must join forces. The country has already lost a lot of precious time that should have been spent on controlling the formation of local swarms — and not on political point-scoring.


Temple construction

THE announcement made recently that the construction of the Ram mandir in Ayodhya — upon the ruins of the Babri Masjid — will begin within six months serves as just another troubling sign that India’s transformation into a Hindu rashtra is nearly complete. Rather than a purely religious edifice, the temple would be a victory monument for the Sangh Parivar, announcing the triumph of extremist Hindu thought over what remains of Indian secularism. The representatives of a Hindu religious trust made the announcement last week; the Indian supreme court had ruled last year that the temple would be built on what is believed by Hindus to be Ram Janmabhoomhi — the birthplace of deity Ram. But far from religious matters, the drive to build the temple, and before it to demolish the Babri Masjid, is part and parcel of the ruling BJP’s ideological make-up. After all, the party’s stalwarts were at the forefront of the movement of Hindu zealots that culminated in the demolition of the mosque in 1992, marking the beginning of the end of Indian secularism, and the bloody, violent arrival of Hindutva on India’s national stage.
The Pakistan Foreign Office has criticised the decision, observing that the move is part of a pattern in which “Muslims in India are being marginalised, dispossessed, demonised and subjected to senseless violence”. Indeed, the monster of Hindutva has emerged from the rubble of the Babri mosque and spread its tentacles across India, smothering minorities, particularly Muslims, and recreating the country in the image of the Sangh Parivar. Whether it is cow vigilantes lynching Muslims on suspicions of eating beef, the shock troops of Hindutva terrorising Muslim men, women and children, or the Indian state introducing discriminatory legislation designed to disenfranchise the Muslim population, all indications are that hatred and majoritarian arrogance have now been mainstreamed in India. The ideologues of the Sangh have never accepted Pakistan and constantly seek to provoke this country, while internally they are meting out treatment to Indian Muslims not too different to what the fascists of Europe did to Jews in the 20th century. There is great horror and revulsion over Nazi crimes — and rightly so. But though the Hindutva brigade is seeking to replicate what their ideological twins did in Europe during World War II, the world is mostly quiet, courting the ‘world’s largest democracy’ that looks the other way as its Muslim citizens are beaten, harassed and murdered.


Trump on the warpath

AFTER his relentless verbal onslaught against the mainstream media, US President Donald Trump has unleashed his wrath on social media companies. Through an executive order signed on Thursday, Mr Trump ordered the removal of some of the legal protections given to Twitter and Facebook. The move came after the microblogging social platform hid a tweet posted by Mr Trump, saying that it “glorifies violence”. In his tweet, Mr Trump warned people in Minneapolis who were protesting against the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer that he would send the military to intervene if there was “any difficulty”. The tweet was still accessible but a warning was added by the social media giant explaining Twitter’s policies and reducing the post’s algorithmic distribution.
Mr Trump is no stranger to controversy and has a record of aggressive behaviour towards journalists and critics. His antagonistic and combative manner with reporters at press conferences has now become a common feature of the news cycle. These fresh attacks on social media giants — which he ironically uses liberally to disseminate his views to circumvent traditional media — are a continuation of his sustained offensive against critics. The executive order is largely symbolic, as these threats will have to cross many legislative and procedural hurdles before they become law — if at all. But what Mr Trump is signalling clearly is that he will not tolerate criticism or evaluation, and that no matter how unpresidential his actions are, he will push back. Not only is this attitude unacceptable in a democracy, it is yet another alarming reminder that an impulsive and authoritarian leader is at the helm of affairs in a global superpower. At a time when the world is combating a pandemic which has overwhelmed healthcare systems and crippled economies, the president of the United States is throwing his toys out of the proverbial pram to make a point — that, too, a dangerous message loaded with threats.
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