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Dawn Editorial 4 March 2020

Anti-Muslim violence

IN the geopolitical arena, where realpolitik and vested interests tend to trump principles, very few states have the courage to speak up for the wretched of the earth. And when someone does speak up there are consequences, ranging from angry rebuttals from the side usually guilty of abuses, to excommunication and severance of links. In the case of the recent communal violence in Delhi, very few major Muslim states have condemned the Indian state for standing by as the rabid Sangh Parivar mobs went about targeting the Indian capital’s Muslims. This country has condemned the BJP-led government for its silence and complicity in the violence; Iran and Turkey have also raised their voices. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a tweet condemned the “senseless thuggery” and “organised violence against Indian Muslims”. Expectedly, the Indians have reacted with wounded pride, summoning the Iranian envoy in New Delhi and lecturing him about interference in India’s “internal affairs”. Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also slammed the “massacres of Muslims by … Hindus”.
While these voices are welcome, the collective voice of Muslims that the OIC is supposed to represent is largely ineffectual. Perhaps this is because some of the major Muslim states — particularly the petrodollar-fuelled sheikhdoms that hold sway over the OIC — prefer silence over taking a stand on matters of principle. Whether it is the recent violence in Delhi, India’s brutal campaign in occupied Kashmir, the horrific violence the Rohingya have been subjected to in Myanmar, or the never-ending nightmare of the Palestinians, the collective ‘Muslim voice’ is conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this, aside from the fear of losing trade and security ties with those that ‘matter’, is the fact that the Muslim world is itself a house divided.
Nowhere is this internal rift more evident than the battlefields of Yemen and Syria. In Yemen, there is no end in sight to the deadly campaign launched by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region and the West against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Though levels of violence are down, the stalemate continues in what the UN has termed the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster currently. In Syria, a troubling new confrontation is brewing between the government in Damascus and Turkey, which backs rebels opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Fighting for control of Idlib — one of the rebels’ last major bastions — has amplified the human catastrophe, and deadly skirmishes between Syrian and Turkish troops may well spiral into a wider regional conflagration. Clearly, statesmanship and vision are required from the Muslim world to sort out internal rifts, and speak up for Muslim communities persecuted in non-Muslim states. A recent effort in Kuala Lumpur was scuttled by some Muslim ‘brothers’ as they felt their leadership of the ummah was at stake. In such circumstances, how will the Muslim voice be heard?


Petrol prices 

IT is often considered disrespectful to bring up remarks made by Prime Minister Imran Khan when he was in the opposition.
But there is no harm in recalling that he did at the time berate the then government for not passing on the full impact of declining oil prices to the people.
His close colleague, Asad Umar, was on air regularly to talk about how damaging it was for the government to use taxes on oil and gas to generate revenue while Mr Khan conveyed his message at rallies repeatedly.
To even suggest in those days that taxing oil was actually a routine practice around the world and that most countries were slow in passing on the benefits of falling oil prices to consumers was treated by the PTI as a suggestion without any merit.
When the party came to power, it found in place a budget that had an automatic mechanism that could be used to make adjustments in taxes on oil prices to compensate for revenue shortfalls in other areas.
In one of its mini budgets earlier on, the PTI government got rid of this mechanism amid claims that it was immoral and wrong and that the new way of doing things would not rely on taxing fuels to generate state revenue because it was inflationary and burdened the masses.
But today, when faced with their first large oil price drop, the government has resorted to previous tactics, perhaps in an even more aggravated form than its predecessors.
Oil prices have plummeted in international markets on the back of a sharp slowdown in economic activity following virus-related shutdowns, particularly in China.
Instead of sharing this price drop with the people, the government has decided to sharply increase the rate of the petroleum levy on petrol and diesel, passing on a meagre part of the declining price to the people and keeping the rest for itself to buttress its revenues.
This may be in keeping with past practices.
But today, the people are expected to forget that they were promised anything different.
Faced with a mounting revenue shortfall, and tough targets inscribed in the IMF programme, the government has little choice but to resort to leaning on those revenue lines that are most elastic.
It is understandable that the government is employing the same means.
But it is equally understandable why the opposition is roasting the government for it.


An unsolved mystery

AS much as officialdom may wish, the issue of the toxic gas leak in Karachi’s Keamari port area last month is not about to quietly dissipate into thin air. A sessions court in the city has summoned two law-enforcement officers over the refusal by the local police to file an FIR against relevant personnel over the death of several people allegedly due to noxious fumes. The tragedy took place in mid-February when hundreds of people began experiencing respiratory distress and other symptoms. Around 400 individuals had to be rushed to hospital; the news sparked panic in the area and the city at large — notwithstanding some stunningly tone-deaf photo-ops by government officials. At least 10 of those affected died over the next couple of days. It was the son of one of the victims who made the unsuccessful attempt to lodge the FIR, and then approached the court seeking redressal.
The entire case typifies the authorities’ lackadaisical approach to matters of public importance and their indifference to the people’s right to demand answers and expect accountability. More than two weeks after it occurred, there is still no confirmation as to what caused the leak; it remains as much of a mystery as ever. Conjecture and surmise has given way to official silence. The generally accepted version is that the phenomenon was caused by “exposure to soybean dust”, spread through the air by improper unloading of a ship carrying containers of soybean. However, a number of experts have refuted this view. They say that if this was so, then one would imagine the unloading crew must have been the most severely affected; by all accounts, that was not the case. Has any investigation been carried out into possible SOP violations at the port? What were the findings? If the cause has not been determined and no loopholes plugged, how can a repetition of such a horrific event be prevented? But as usual, it seems, what is out of sight is out of mind.


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