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The Express Express Tribune Editorial 21 January 2020

Olive branch


Faced with almost all sorts of crises — from a dwindling economy to bad governance and unhappy coalition partners — the PTI-led government now seems to be feeling the need, and realising the importance, to bring down the political temperature that has been rising and rising since Imran Khan took over as prime minister about a year and a half ago. Special Assistant to PM on Political Affairs Naeem-ul-Haque has extended an olive branch to the opposition during a television talkshow on Sunday, saying that the PM is ready to talk to opposition parties, and move forward on issues of national importance. What shows the government’s seriousness — or perhaps its desperation — is Haque stating that even a ‘hint’ from the opposition will be enough for the government to enter into dialogue with them. On the other hand, the PML-N, the country’s biggest opposition party, looks like expecting a formal invitation for talks.
Whatever may have stimulated the government to try and make peace with the opposition, the government’s conciliatory stance should be defended as a move in the right direction. A tug of war between the government and the opposition is never helpful in the context of national goals, especially during a crisis situation. Political rhetoric just for the sake of outwitting your political rival does not serve the purpose of national progress. This political wrangling not only sends out negative sentiments that are harmful for the businesses and financial markets, but also discourages the people in general. Moreover, it hurts efforts for bringing in political calm — something that is a must for the rulers to focus on issues of core concern for the country and the people, like the economy, international diplomacy and internal and external security.
It’s time for the opposition to accept the olive branch and enter into a meaningful dialogue for the sake of the country and its people, who have been suffering to no end. A consensus on the important post of Chief Election Commissioner could be a good beginning.


Wheat crisis


The wheat crisis keeps growing. After a spike in prices in Karachi, price points have been rising nationwide amid claims that an artificial shortage is to blame. The PTI-led federal government has been accusing the Sindh government of failing to purchase wheat at the right price and time, leading to supply shortages to the flour mills. The Sindh government, led by the PPP, accused the Centre of playing a ‘dirty blame game’. The PPP has been joined by the PML-N in accusing the Centre of allowing wheat exports despite low wheat reserves. Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif demanded an inquiry to determine who authorised exports despite a ban ostensibly being in place since last summer. There is evidence to support both points of view.
PTI leaders have noted Sindh’s failure to pick up the wheat released for the province from the central reserve. Only a quarter of the total was picked up, according to the PTI. The ruling party is accusing a ‘mafia’ of hoarding essential commodities to make an unscrupulous quick buck. At the same time, Special Assistant to the PM on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan was less than convincing when she deflected questions related to when the government would bring prices under control. “See who is responsible for the price hike. Is it a government which has only been in power for 15 months?” she asked. Not necessarily, but failure to address the price hike is indeed the government’s failure. She inadvertently admitted as much, saying that since coming to power, the government has “tried our best to prevent the economy from drowning.” For poor citizens, the government’s best has not nearly been enough.
On the other hand, while PPP leaders rightly noted that the PTI is calling out Sindh while ignoring rising flour prices in the provinces it controls, the export accusation seems a little overplayed. While exporting 40,000 tonnes of wheat was probably not a great idea, it is only a drop in the ocean relative to the total demand. What all parties need to do is start by looking at the financial dealings of their own respective flour barons.


Sorry state of public buses


Much of poverty, misery and apathy is transparent in Pakistan as they are elsewhere. Even blind men can see the misery and governmental and social apathy around them. Precious lives are lost as public buses frequently catch fire in the country. The reasons behind road accidents are well known so there is no point in dilating upon them neither is there much sense wasting time on trying to draw the attention of the authorities to such tragedies. Recently, a van caught fire in Karachi that killed nine and injured several other passengers. The dead included six members of one family. The family had hired the van and they were on the way to attend a wedding when the tragedy occurred. The fire is said to have been caused by a short circuit and due to the presence of a petrol-filled bottle near the engine the fire immediately engulfed the van.
Public transport in the cities and towns of the country is in a very bad shape and the relevant authorities appear to be helpless in making transporters mend their ways and reining in rude drivers and conductors. Most vans and buses plying the roads are unfit for carrying passengers. Vans and buses are mostly overloaded, seats meant for ladies are occupied by male passengers; and passengers, drivers and conductors pinch ladies and ogle at them. Drivers are unruly; vehicles either run at supersonic speed or they crawl at a snail’s pace depending on the whims of drivers and conductors; fares too vary sometimes on the pretext of gas shortage and sometimes on other flimsy grounds. Substandard LPG gas cylinders and bottle of petrol are installed in vehicles putting passengers’ lives at risk.
The level of official apathy is astounding. For the past several years we have a style of governance that is characterised by posters and banners carrying pictures of politicians and their hollow promises. The whole thing is appalling.
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