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Dawn Editorial 4 August 2020

Kashmir repression

ONE year after India’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, the situation in India-held Kashmir remains a powder keg of anger and repression. Ravaged by a brutal curfew that included complete shutting down of internet services, Kashmir today continues to suffocate under unprecedented military presence. The Hindu supremacist government of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had boasted on Aug 5 last year that the annexation of Kashmir would bring peace and prosperity to the people of the region. A year later all such predictions have proved wrong. Thousands of Kashmiris have been imprisoned, tortured and made to disappear, and yet the population remains defiant.
There is hardly any doubt that Mr Modi’s real objective in revoking IHK’s special status as a semi-autonomous region under Article 370 was to bring about a demographic change there. Since last year, the government has aggressively promoted migration of Hindus to IHK through various incentives. In the long run, the BJP wants to convert the Muslim Kashmiri population into a minority on its own land. This policy has continued to unfold in the occupied territory since August last year under the shadow of Indian guns. Both the government and the pliant Indian media continue to claim that normalcy has returned to Kashmir but nothing could be farther from the truth. A large number of Kashmiri leaders —including the pro-Indian ones — remain incarcerated, freedom of movement is severely curtailed and independent media cannot get access to the region. Draconian measures like a communication blackout are routinely used to clamp down on resistance. Horrendous incidents of beatings and custodial killings of Kashmiris, including young boys, by the occupying force are commonplace. The heart-wrenching image of the infant sitting on the dead body of his grandfather slain by Indian soldiers is only one illustration of the gross human rights violations being perpetrated by the Indian occupying force.
The annexation of occupied Kashmir has also had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of people. The influx of outsiders into the region has put a strain on employment opportunities for locals who have already suffered the loss of earnings under the blanket curfew that was imposed prior to the annexation last year. The much-touted investment conference that was to be held in Kashmir is yet to see the light of day. Covid-19 has added another adverse factor in the lives of people while providing security forces an excuse for further clamping down on movement. Occupied Kashmir is on the brink of a political, demographic and financial disaster. Pakistan should undertake every effort feasible to highlight the situation and mount pressure on India to reverse the disastrous decision of revoking the special status of Kashmir. India must not be allowed to get away with this travesty. This message should resonate loud and clear on Aug 5.


NDMA in Karachi

THE fact that the National Disaster Management Authority — a federal agency which, by virtue of its very definition, is designed to move in and launch operations when disasters strike — has been tasked by the prime minister to clean Karachi’s storm drains shows that the metropolis’s civic infrastructure has collapsed. It is no secret that decades of neglect and misrule by various parties have left Karachi in tatters, and the state this megacity is in is no less than a man-made disaster. NDMA personnel, along with the FWO, started work cleaning Gujjar nullah, one of the city’s main storm drains, on Monday, taking out tonnes of sludge that had blocked the free flow of water and resulted in horrendous urban flooding in parts of the city during heavy rain spells at the end of last month. Another heavy spell has been forecast by the weatherman in the city later this week, which perhaps explains the federal government’s urgency to get the drains cleaned.
While it may be a relief that some action has been taken at the official level to save Karachi from further rain-related misery, calling in federal agencies designed to be deployed in emergencies is only a stopgap measure. When the nation’s largest city has a barely functioning local government, residents look at such ad hoc moves as the only solution. Indeed, all the players that use Karachi as a political battleground are equally responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The PPP-led Sindh government over more than a decade has, bit by bit, stripped away nearly all the powers of the local government, specifically keeping water, sewage and solid waste (mis)management under its wing. The disastrous results are in plain sight. Meanwhile, the MQM-led mayoralty also does little other than complain about lack of powers and funds. While its plaint may be partially justified, the KMC does not seem to be particularly active in using whatever powers remain with it. On the other hand, the PTI’s federal government — which has the most MNAs elected from Karachi — watches from the wings and after disaster strikes, moves in to the rescue with swashbuckling solutions. None of these are tenable approaches. Whether it is federal agencies launching clean-up operations, or the Sindh government unveiling grandiose foreign donor-funded civic projects, all these moves will fail unless there is an elected, empowered local government in place that can clean and maintain Karachi as part of its constitutional duty.


More testing needed

A CONSIDERABLE decrease in the number of active Covid-19 cases in the past couple of weeks has resulted in the easing of restrictions, the opening up of public spaces and reduced testing in several parts of the country. It is, however, too soon to let down our guard. As Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly pointed out, carelessness during Eidul Azha could cause a fresh spike in infections, putting further strain on our already overstretched healthcare resources. Though the daily number of deaths and infections have decreased considerably, the authorities would still have to keep an eye on the emerging trend over the next couple of weeks as those newly infected — their numbers could be considerable due to violation of SOPs and socialising over Eid — begin to show symptoms. This means that testing, which has gone down, has to be ramped up. Even at its peak, testing by the government was far below the target. But now that the rate of infection has fallen, government testing also seems to be on the decline. For example, the Punjab government has eased the lockdown earlier than anticipated while also reducing the number of tests by around 30pc of its daily capacity of 17,000. Less testing may leave us vulnerable if a second wave of infections begins in the country, so there is absolutely no room for complacency, and SOPs must be strictly enforced everywhere. There are also concerns that the approaching month of Muharram may see a spike in infections as people congregate to fulfil religious obligations.
To really push the country out of this pandemic, both the government and the people will have to keep taking adequate precautionary measures. The authorities should maintain a baseline level of testing despite the decline in cases to be able to predict and prepare for a potential second wave of Covid-19 and to obtain more data. On its part, the public must follow the government-recommended SOPs to make sure that we conquer this pandemic once and for all.


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