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The Express Tribune Editorial 10 January 2020



Reports of a slew of Iranian missiles launched at Iraqi bases where US troops were stationed were followed by the news of a plane crash near Tehran airport, worrying the world that war was becoming inevitable. And then something strange happened. While the world sifted through numerous reports, most of which could only be called dubious, propaganda, or utter nonsense, a de-escalation began. Iran fired at least 15 missiles at two bases in retaliation for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani. The attacks apparently killed no one, and although some are crediting US early-warning systems, several credible sources have said it appears that the Iranians deliberately targeted the missiles to avoid casualties. Warning shots, if you will.
Iranian state media, however, is claiming that 80 “American terrorists” had been killed and that the bases had been severely damaged in a “crushing response” to Soleimani’s death. But why would Iran avoid casualties and then, for domestic consumption at least, claim it inflicted massive casualties? One explanation is that this was the only way to send a message to the US while avoiding getting into an all-out war and also pacifying domestic demand for revenge. It appears the Iranians have successfully killed three birds with one stone, because hours after the strikes, US President Donald Trump began suggesting that the US would not respond with further violence.
Much like American justification for the attack on Soleimani, the Iranian claim that the reprisal attack was an act of self-defence is dubious, at best. Still, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s tweet that attacks on the US had “concluded” was enough to get Trump — who had threatened to commit war crimes just a few days ago — to walk back. Trump’s televised statement, however, was another example of fudging the facts. He claimed Iran would never be allowed to have nuclear weapons while he is president while ignoring that Iran only restarted its quest for the bomb because he had violated the Iran nuclear deal. But at least for now, it appears the hawks in the Trump administration have failed. And that is authentic good news.


Sidestepping the charade


In a slap on New Delhi, envoys from EU countries have refused to join a guided tour of India-occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir because their guides are unlikely to let them meet the detained local politicians and obtain a less-than manicured view of the disputed region that has been under an information and physical blockade for the past five months.
One European diplomatic source was quoted by the local media as saying that the envoys wanted to meet people freely and of their choosing to get their untainted view of the conflict and impacts of stripping away the autonomy of the occupied region. The people that these envoys ideally want to speak to are the three former chief ministers of the region – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — all of whom are currently under house arrest. Moreover, the EU envoys would preferably want to speak to these leaders without Indian officers breathing down their neck.
The Indian government, though, insists that envoys from some 15 countries, including the United States and South Korea, are on track to join the two-day trip while other officials tried to downplay the withdrawal by EU diplomats citing the short notice for the trip and that they could go on a separate trip later. Last October, around 30 European lawmakers had been taken to the region which New Delhi insisted was a ‘private’ initiative but only after the EU refused to grant it official status.
The hesitation of EU lawmakers and diplomats to be taken on a trip — akin to a visit to an open-air zoo — is understandable. Not going on such a trip, though, carries a greater message and one that New Delhi has heard loud and clear: that the Europeans will not fall for the charade of “all is well” in Kashmir. Let’s hope, for the sake of Kashmiris, that other nations will follow suit in seeking greater transparency on what is happening in the disputed region.


AIDS ‘epidemic’


There are reports that the largest AIDS control programme in the country seems to be failing in performing its task. Such fears are being attributed to the delay by the Punjab government in procuring 100,000 rapid HIV/AIDS test kits. The number of AIDS patients in the province has now reached the alarming figure of 18,556. There are apprehensions that due to the inordinate delay in the purchase of HIV rapid test kits, the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Punjab might assume epidemic proportions. According to a report of the National AIDS Control Programme appearing in the media, AIDS cases in Pakistan has increased by 57% in the past eight years with the death rate at 369%. Punjab tops the list with 50% of the total 36,902 HIV/AIDS cases, followed by Sindh with 43%, K-P 5% and Balochistan 2%. The number of unregistered HIV cases in the country is estimated to be 165,000. Of the total 44 HIV/AIDS treatment centres in the country, Punjab has 26. Treatment centres in Punjab recently compiled the total number of registered AIDS patients in the province.
An official of the Punjab AIDS control programme admits that the delay in procuring test kits for screening of patients has increased the risk of the disease taking the form of an epidemic. He, however, said there was discrepancy in the reported data of HIV/AIDS patients. He disclosed that out of the total 18,556 registered patients in Punjab, only 9,400 patients were being provided treatment under the programme. He said the relevant authorities were supposed to submit a new PC-1 to set new targets to reduce the incidence/impact of the disease. But they failed and now the previous programme had been extended to June 2020. The PACP director claims that reporting of such a large number of AIDS patients in Punjab could be the result of duplication of already registered patients during data entry by various dashboards. Steps are being taken to avoid duplication of data entry.
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