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Dawn Editorial 5 February 2020

Solidarity with IHK

KASHMIR Day has been a regular feature on the Pakistani calendar for the last few decades. However, this year things are different as today is the first Kashmir Day observed after India revoked the disputed territory’s autonomous status by tinkering with the constitution in August 2019.
What has followed has been a tale of misery and brutality unleashed upon this beautiful land and its people by the narrow-minded bigots currently running the show in New Delhi.
India has enforced a blockade which has crippled communications as well as commerce in the held region, whereas thousands have been detained since the crackdown began last year. These have included Kashmiri lawmakers who were at one time staunch allies of New Delhi, but who have now been given the rough end of the stick by those they once served. But it is the ordinary Kashmiri who has borne the brunt of New Delhi’s brutish tactics, with security forces frequently conducting midnight raids and torturing unarmed citizens.
The dire situation echoed in the National Assembly on Tuesday, as lawmakers called upon India to “rescind its illegal action” in occupied Kashmir and allow foreign governments and global rights bodies to “assess and report the human rights situation there”.
Indeed, ever since India illegally annexed the disputed territory last year, the state and civil society here have been active in raising a voice for Kashmiris. The government has lobbied key capitals, informing them of the atrocious human rights situation in India-held Kashmir, and exposing the real face of Narendra Modi’s extreme Hindu right-wing dispensation.
While these efforts have delivered some results — leading rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have spoken out against India’s abuses in IHK — it is an unfortunate fact that some of the most powerful actors on the world stage maintain a stony silence where the Kashmir situation is concerned.
Moreover, many of the Muslim states have also preferred to remain silent, barring a few notable exceptions such as Malaysia.
While realpolitik may dominate international relations, those in the global community who claim to be champions of rights and freedom must speak much louder for the voiceless Kashmiris and let India know that its brutal suppression of the held region is unacceptable.
Pakistan must continue its moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris. This country has religious, cultural and blood ties with Kashmir and neither the state nor the citizenry will remain silent as India’s attempts to crush the occupied region’s people continue.
The situation may be depressing at the moment but the Kashmiris must not give up hope and should continue their democratic struggle for rights. And as they continue to resist India’s tyranny in their quest for dignity, fundamental rights and freedom, Kashmiris should know that Pakistan and its people stand with them in their hour of trial.


Basant ban

ONCE upon a time, the skies of Punjab would be speckled with colour to mark the arrival of spring. For centuries, this seasonal shift would be celebrated with great fervour by people across the province as they participated in the festival of Basant, regardless of which religion, caste or class they belonged to. Families would gather with their friends and neighbours to fly kites as music blared from the rooftops. In later years, such festivities would be replicated in other parts of Pakistan as well. But then the authorities started taking note of a string of casualties, and the celebrations were abruptly cut short. Some people fell from rooftops; others would get slashed by the glass-coated strings of fighter kites; or be killed during aerial firing. Then there were the motorcyclists who would get entrapped in strings, leading to a higher number of accidents on the road. In 2007, the Punjab government placed a ban on Basant-related activities, effectively criminalising the festival. While the decision was ostensibly passed to curb the number of deaths and injuries, there are many who believe that the authorities caved in to pressure from the religious right, which loudly proclaimed the seasonal festivities ‘un-Islamic’. In 2018, there was anticipation that Basant would make a comeback after the Punjab government announced it would lift the ban, but the move was challenged in the Lahore High Court — with kite-flying being described as a ‘blood sport’.
To ban an entire festival rather than addressing the root cause of the problem can only be described as reactionary (at best) and foolish (at worst), especially at a time when the country is eager to promote its tourism potential to the world. Basant is not only an indigenous festival, but a ‘happy’ occasion that is both family- and community-oriented, but precautions must be in place. Even with the ban, there are reports of people being killed due to glass-covered strings used to bring down rival kites. Last year, a young motorcyclist died after his throat was slashed by one such string in Lahore. Earlier, another young man was killed similarly in Karachi. Instead of banning Basant, the government should criminalise the manufacture and sale of glass-coated strings used during competitive kite-flying, and instead, promote cotton threads without the addition of dangerous material. This will not only mitigate the risks of kite-flying, it will also save many lives — and perhaps one day the colours will return to the sky.


KCR slapstick

ONE must have a lively sense of humour to enjoy news concerning the Karachi Circular Railway project. As a report in this newspaper says, the Sindh government and the railway ministry have decided to sort out all KCR problems, and agreed to hand over the Karachi Urban Transport Company to the provincial government. However, all that the decision does is to enable the Sindh government to get financial approval from the CPEC-related Joint Coordination Committee, which will meet in Beijing in April. Some progress indeed. The truth is that for decades the KCR has been a media affair. Ministers, bureaucrats, ‘experts’ and occasionally foreign donors have uttered thousands of words which they never cared to eat but which a gullible media has dutifully focused on. The end-result has been shameful inaction bordering on anti-citizen criminality.
Before independence, Karachi had a mass transit system in embryonic form, with trams connecting residential areas with business centres. This was an adequate transport structure for a city whose population was less than half a million. In post-independence Karachi, the only step towards a train-based transport network was taken during the Ayub era when the KCR was launched. It carried commuters from the suburbs to the industrial area, connecting ultimately with the mainline railway. Its closure in the 1970s now seems to have become permanent. The Japanese offered money and technical help to revive it, and all they wanted was the removal of encroachments on KCR land. No government could accomplish this feat. Last year, on a court order, encroachments were demolished but the project itself remains frozen, even as thousands of families lost their homes. What is missing is political will of the kind we saw in Lahore. Bureaucrats will continue to make plans which will never be translated into action, because there is no one who could consider the KCR his or her own project and show determination to overcome all hurdles to give one of the world’s biggest cities a comfortable transport system.


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