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The Express Tribune 11 July 2020

State of railways


In recent years, the Pakistan Railways has gained notoriety for being accident-prone due to inefficiency, mismanagement and favouritism in recruitment. Conditions have become so bad that a few days ago the association of train drivers has warned that their members will not drive trains because railway tracks have become dangerous to drive on for want of proper maintenance and also due to outdated technology. They have asked the government to work for the rehabilitation of tracks for the safety of passengers and line staff and pay proper attention to rolling stock.
The Supreme Court too has regularly been expressing its dissatisfaction with the affairs of the Pakistan Railways and asking the giant public-sector organisation to improve its functioning. On Thursday, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed emphatically asserted that the railways “is not being operated the way it should be”. Hearing a suo-motu case, the top judge said undoubtedly regulations and manuals according to which trains were to operate were being flouted resulting in frequent accidents and consequent loss of precious human lives. He said improvement in the functioning of the railways did not appear to be in sight. An annoyed chief justice said not only was the railway infrastructure in a state of neglect its employees too were unfit to operate the service. He emphasised the need for overhauling the secretariat-level positions in the railway department from top to bottom to ensure the organisation’s proper functioning.
Not long ago the Pakistan Railways hauled the major freight traffic. Not so any more. Railway official say they have lost most goods haulage because of a shortage of freight trains with the railways. According to the admission of the Railway Minister himself now only 2% of the freight traffic is with the Pakistan Railways. Once the railways was an inexpensive and comfortable mode of travel for middle-class people and a railway journey has its own adventure. Now the fear of accident is keeping people away from train journey.


Equal emergency


A recent UN report has suggested that the number of AIDS infections and associated fatalities in Pakistan over the past decade has spiked, even as it declined in other regional countries. The UNAIDS report says that countries, such as Australia, Cambodia and Thailand have managed to lower AIDS-related fatalities by 29% since 2010. Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Philippines, though, saw fatalities rise during this period. Also of concern was the fact that more than a quarter of new infections was amongst young people between 15-24 years of age. Homosexual relations between men and a rise in drug use are among the leading causes. Another reason is the low coverage of the needle-syringe programme while opioid substitution therapy services are either not available or their coverage is 10% or lower. The report suggests that this period of rising cases coincides with a decline in political and programmatic commitment, alongside punitive laws and policies and rising stigma and discrimination that block effective AIDS response.
According to Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr Nausheen Hamid, there are an estimated 183,000 AIDS patients in the country; and of them, 25, patients are registered and provided free treatment at 45 centres nationwide. She concedes that the stigma attached to AIDS means people prefer to conceal the disease and only seek testing and treatment when in critical condition. The impacts of stigma, poor practices of reusing medical equipment — whether in drug or clinical settings — along with certain social practices have already led to the outbreak in Larkana recently. Our AIDS programme was never a top priority but the emergence of several other health emergencies seem to have pushed this one to the backburner and would have collapsed without support from the civil society and donor organisations. Like some other diseases, the government needs to treat AIDS as a medical emergency and increase testing and treatment coverage.


India and UN’s rights report


India has even stopped pretending that it cares about human rights. It has now emerged that the country ignored a report by four UN special rapporteurs asking New Delhi to investigate allegations of torture and custodial killings of Muslims in Occupied Kashmir that have occurred since January 2019. The report for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was authored by the agency’s special rapporteurs for torture, extrajudicial killings, minority issues, and freedom of religion. It was sent to the Indian government in May and draws attention to “the continued deterioration of human rights conditions” in the occupied region. It also documents several cases of “arbitrary detentions, violations to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and rights of persons belonging to minorities”.
The authors also “remain deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights violations” and call on India “to conduct an impartial investigation into all the allegations of arbitrary killings, torture and ill-treatment and to prosecute suspected perpetrators”. They note that allegations of “excessive use of force, torture and other forms of ill-treatment reportedly committed during the arrest and detention and death in custody” of people “targeted based on their ethnicity and/or religious identities.” The report also suggests that India simply refuses to conduct autopsies for people killed in police custody.
Unfortunately, New Delhi’s refusal to even reply to the report within the stipulated 60-day period is not a surprise. India previously sent “no response” to related communications sent last August and in February this year. India did not even reply to the simplest of questions — whether the investigations found that these people had even been found to have committed a crime. As for the other main questions — what steps India has taken to address the allegations and information about laws to protect religious minorities, the UN officials should have known better. The Prime Minister of India is Narendra Modi. His entire career is built on promoting bigotry. He rose to national prominence by arranging a pogrom.
His ‘56-inch chest’ swells every time a Muslim is lynched. Instead of asking, the UN should be telling — India has become a fascist apartheid state. Period.
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