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Dawn Editorial 4 June 2020

Shahbaz’s escape

THE decision of the Lahore High Court on Wednesday to grant former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif pre-arrest bail capped the latest upheaval in NAB’s avowed drive to punish the corrupt and the Sharif family saga. Mr Sharif has now been asked to appear before NAB on June 9 after Tuesday’s high drama which had reduced the official raiders looking for Mr Sharif to a role not quite commensurate with their status or mandate. The PML-N leader had been summoned by NAB officials in Lahore on the day. Instead, he chose to write a letter, introducing himself as a 69-year-old man with reasons to be wary of gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NAB premises were risky, and on the strength of some unspecified news reports, the letter claimed that certain personnel had contracted the virus. Having registered its reservations, it appears that the PML-N was correct in expecting NAB teams to launch their ‘find Shahbaz’ operation. The first and most prominent raid was made on the old Sharif residence in Model Town, which was reportedly followed by more searches in other places in the city. They all drew a blank. Mr Sharif had disappeared.
Not that this operation came out of the blue. Some politicians had been predicting that Mr Sharif was on schedule to land in the NAB lockup soon after Eid. Clearly, the PML-N was prepared for that moment when the law came literally knocking on their leader’s door. NAB, which has been projected by the government cheerleaders as in the mood to catch and grill big fish, was ultimately found wanting. Government spokespersons and sundry PTI supporters constantly swear by NAB’s autonomous and fully empowered status. But this incident hardly painted a pretty picture of the highly hailed accountability officials, who made such a mess of locating and taking into custody a man whose whereabouts in the city from where he drew power have been so meticulously documented. One explanation is that it’s not easy to find Shahbaz Sharif or any of his family members whom the city of Lahore has taken under its protective wings — a line which should be officially shunned since it would be a perfect conclusion for PML-N supporters. A better official strategy would be to blame it on human error and the laxity of the raiders.
It has been suggested that Mr Sharif emerged from the episode as a fainthearted leader. But while one can argue that the principled position would have been to face the law, no matter how tarnished NAB’s reputation, this would go against the tenets of Mr Sharif’s own political philosophy. The former chief minister is here to avoid arrest, perhaps to cut a deal. He avoids and evades; it is up to the other plank of the party to decide when it is absolutely necessary to resist and to be seen to be doing so.


Zahra’s murder

THERE is a Dickensian quality to the latest case of child abuse that has shocked the country — such is the appalling social inequity it depicts. On Sunday, an eight-year-old girl did something many of her age might have done: she let escape some birds confined in a cage. Except, little Zahra was not a daughter of privilege — she was a domestic worker in a Rawalpindi household and the pet parrots belonged to her employers. Her ‘transgression’ allegedly earned the child such a brutal beating by the couple that she succumbed to her injuries soon after being brought to hospital. The suspects have been remanded into police custody. As per the FIR, Zahra sustained injuries to her face, hands, below the ribcage, and legs. She may have also been subjected to sexual assault, though tests are yet to confirm that.
Several of the worst aspects of Pakistani society coalesced in this incident — the grinding poverty that blights large sections of it, the abhorrent sense of entitlement among the ‘elite’, and an exploitative system that perpetuates the status quo either through apathy or complicity. There is also a tacit acceptance of child labour, at least when it is not in a ‘hazardous’ capacity. But, as we have seen time and again, domestic settings are no less perilous to minor workers. In 2016, 10-year-old Tayyaba nearly died of torture at the hands of her employers, an Islamabad district court judge and his wife. In that instance, there was some measure of accountability, though the couple’s prison sentence was reduced from three years to one. Zahra’s murder is only the latest in a shameful litany of cases which illustrate that modern-day slavery is alive and well here. In such a milieu, every man, woman and child does not have inherent dignity: instead, dignity is determined by a sliding scale according to socioeconomic class. Children, being the weakest, are the most vulnerable, sometimes at the hands of their own parents who out of compulsion can put them to work even where their well-being cannot be assured. It is about time that the loopholes in the child labour laws that exist in certain sectors were closed and legislation pertaining specifically to minor domestic workers enacted. Moreover, the government must strengthen child protection laws so that minors can be rescued from abusive or negligent home situations. We must not keep failing young Pakistanis over and over again.


Targeting hospitals

OF late, a number of attacks targeting medical staff in hospitals in Karachi and Peshawar have given rise to apprehension amongst healthcare workers. On May 15, a mob vandalised a section of Karachi’s JPMC after attempting to forcibly retrieve the body of a deceased patient who died after contracting the coronavirus. On May 29, the relatives of a 50-year-old woman who tested positive for Covid-19 inflicted damage on Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital after the critically ill patient passed away. Just a few days earlier, dozens of people had vandalised Karachi’s Civil Hospital and attacked doctors, allegedly because the medical staff delayed handing over the body of a Covid-19 patient who died during treatment. The relatives of the deceased patient rejected the test results, while the hospital said the result came out positive after it was under process for some time. Horrifyingly, a female doctor was slapped by a relative of the deceased.
Even as healthcare workers are applauded for their commitment to treating Covid-19 patients across the world and in our own country, these incidents highlight the lack of trust between the public and institutions, as well as the failure to send out the right message. Undoubtedly, the death of a loved one due to Covid-19 or any other reason is painful for the family. But the guidelines from the government say there should be a balance between the rights of the family and the risks of exposure to infection or need for investigating the cause of death. The SOPs may include testing, draining and disinfecting any wounds and suction of nasal and oral passages because there are fears that the lungs of the deceased patient may contain the live virus. These steps take time and are necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to healthcare and mortuary staff. Authorities need to do everything possible to protect healthcare workers who are treating Covid-19 patients at great personal risk. Better security and improved public messaging on the SOPs for deceased patients would be a step in the right direction.


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