INMATES of jails in Pakistan do not often have a reason to collectively rejoice, but a humane decision by the federal government will have many female prisoners doing precisely that. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday directed the relevant authorities to prepare for the early release of under-trial women and those who continue to remain behind bars only because they are unable to pay petty fines. He said the government would pay the fines outstanding against female prisoners whose remaining sentences are less than three years so they could be released immediately. It appears that his directive also extends to the release of juvenile prisoners behind bars for minor crimes. The prime minister’s words constitute a movement towards compliance with a Supreme Court ruling in April which ordered the government to set free inmates suffering from mental or physical illness, under-trial inmates 55 years or older, male under-trial prisoners without any past convictions, and women and juvenile prisoners. The measure also brings us a little closer to our international human rights obligations.
A civilised society is that which respects the inviolable dignity of man, even of individuals incarcerated for heinous crimes. By that measure, Pakistan scores very poorly. A number of studies have delved into the abominable conditions inside the country’s jails. Most recently, a commission set up late last year by the Islamabad High Court to look into the violation of human rights violations in the prison system uncovered a plethora of disturbing facts. Those behind bars find themselves subject to daily indignities and deprivations that constitute no less than a sub-human existence. According to the commission’s report, which it submitted to the IHC in January this year, more than 5,000 out of a total of 73,661 prisoners were afflicted with some form of disease: 2,100 suffered from physical ailments, while nearly 2,400 were infected with contagious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. Additionally, around 600 prisoners suffer from psychological disorders. Shockingly, almost 50pc of the medical jail staff posts were lying vacant, and there was a shortage of appropriate medical equipment and laboratories.
An earlier report, presented to the Supreme Court in November 2019, allows a fuller picture to emerge, one that is both horrific and heartbreaking. According to its findings, 77,275 prisoners are held in 114 jails across Pakistan — well beyond their capacity of 57,742 inmates. Research suggests that intolerably overcrowded living conditions can be a catalyst for aggression and antisocial behaviour that may persist even after prisoners are released into society. Worse, a vast majority of these individuals are undertrials, caught in a shambolic system where the judicial process often takes years to complete. Even for those who are found innocent, their lives are irrevocably altered by their ordeal. It is heartening that there seems to finally be a momentum in favour of prison reform.
Devastation in KP
THIS year’s thundering monsoon and the subsequent loss of life and property have once again exposed our inability to prepare for and manage natural disasters. The total death toll from rain-related damage in the country since mid-June has crossed 170 while heavy rainfall continues to batter several areas.
With the latest spell of rain claiming over 20 lives in Hazara and Malakand divisions of KP, the total number of deaths in the province has surpassed those in Sindh. Heavy landslides and flash floods have destroyed a large number of homes, several schools and other structures, and have damaged the road and communications network in Chitral, Swat, Shangla, Kohistan, Lower Dir, Charsadda, Mardan and other areas.
There have also been at least three extreme weather events during the past two months. On Aug 28, flash floods resulting from a cloudburst in Swat valley swept away around 45 houses while killing at least 11 people. Meanwhile, in Chitral, two glacial lake outbursts — one on July 13 and the other on Aug 14 — also resulted in considerable losses.
The recurring floods that have been worsening over the years combined with these freak weather events are a clear warning to the authorities to take effective measures to limit the impact of climate change in the country.
Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the deadly effects of global warming. While in KP the provincial rescue departments have been prompt in their response to the crises and are providing relief to the affected people, the general state of the disaster management infrastructure in the country leaves a lot to be desired.
Since changing climate patterns and measures to mitigate their effect are not taken into account while preparing a plan for disaster management, the collective effort is ad hoc and often an exercise in futility. With no sustainable solutions, such short-term measures come at great expense in terms of resources. What the country needs is an integrated disaster prevention and management system that takes into consideration both prevention and preparedness.
For this, help can be sought from the federal climate change ministry to pinpoint the risk factors and vulnerable areas. Moreover, the authorities would also need to invest in the latest equipment for accurate weather forecasts and capacity building of disaster management authorities’ staff so that they can plan beyond mundane relief measures to guard against the perennial loss of life and property.
Not much to celebrate
IT took a wide full-length ball from Haris Rauf at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening to ensure that Pakistan ended their weather-truncated tour of England on a winning note. Until this last delivery of the six-game itinerary, the tourists had had little to celebrate. There was rearguard action by Azhar Ali and Muhammad Rizwan that combined with rain to save a Test match for Pakistan, even though they lost the series 0-1. The high point was when the national side, which had a battery of guides and mentors including former greats in the team management, was just five wickets away from winning the first Test. The lowest came not too long afterwards — when Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes stole the very first game from a hapless bunch that suddenly appeared to have lost all sense of how to compete. England played brilliantly with the bat while Pakistan’s bowlers left their fans disappointed. Even with the great Waqar Younis and wily Mushtaq Ahmed as coaches, the bowlers failed to rise to the occasion. The team’s batting was erratic, and could have suffered because of excessive reliance on the burdened Babar Azam.
The subsequent T20 series was relatively less disturbed by the elements but again the bowlers gave away a lot of runs. A game was abandoned because of rain and England won a match when the visitors failed to defend a hefty 195. Pakistan won the third match by a difference of just five runs. Debutant Haider Ali shone with a 50, but the old war horses Muhammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz were the ones who forcefully wrested it for Pakistan from the tight English grip. Which means that whereas a new star may have been found, the call for retiring all seniors in one go makes little sense. Unfortunately, this latest expedition to the birthplace of cricket failed to throw up any clues as to why a Fawad Alam or Sarfaraz Ahmed is selected and why a Muhammad Rizwan is dropped.