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The Express Tribune Editorial 10 June 2020

Wheat import

The federal government efforts to control flour prices have seen the removal of restrictions on wheat imports by the private sector and ending of a 60% tariff on imports. Prime Minister Imran Khan also withdrew two other import duties on wheat, which added up to 8%. Domestically, the government has also lifted the ban on inter-provincial transportation of grain. A new crackdown on smuggling and hoarding will also begin. The government hopes that allowing imports will disincentivise hoarding and help keep prices down, even though it claims it does not expect any shortages of flour or wheat. Incidentally, public sector wheat procurement is also up.
The news is a welcome example of foresight. Even though wheat output this year was expected to be in-line with the average for the last five years, according to independent analysts, there was a bumper crop last year, which is not going to be repeated this year. Besides, the impact of the locust outbreak and Covid-19 on agriculture output is still uncertain, meaning that prudence will likely insulate the country from any supply shocks, and the government from criticism if something does go wrong. In addition, this would also protect against a repeat of the wheat crisis in January.
After vehemently denying there was a crisis at all, the government was forced to investigate. In April, the PTI was left egg faced as the inquiry commission not only showed that there was indeed a major problem, but that the PTI-led Government of Punjab, its departments, and others with links to the halls of power were to blame. Although much action still needs to be taken on that report and the sugar crisis inquiry, a start is a start. Hopefully, the effort to better regulate and monitor essential agriculture supply chains will continue, and those who gamed the system will be punished. This really is also where the government can build. At the time, PM Imran said, “Previous political leaderships because of their vested interests and compromises lacked moral courage to order and release such reports.”
Will the ruling party have the moral courage to punish all of those responsible for the crises?


Justified demands

Being at the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and all those associated with the medical profession are fully justified in asking for personal protection equipment, financial privilege, health insurance cover, and martyr package for those losing their lives while serving the ailing humanity, and separate wards for medics and paramedics suffering from the deadly virus. On Monday, doctors and nurses working at government hospitals in Sindh staged demonstrations across the province to press for their demands, and warned that protests would continue till their demands were met. The protests were organised under the auspices of the Sind Health Grand Alliance, an umbrella organisation of various associations of doctors, nurses and paramedics.
The demands are justified due to the fact that healthcare providers themselves are at risk of contracting the Covid-19 illness. So far many doctors and nurses have died from the coronavirus and many are undergoing treatment across the country. However, no exact figures for infections or fatalities among medical practitioners are available publicly. This is a dangerous failing on the part of our official statisticians considering the fact that a proper strategy cannot be formulated without reliable data. This applies to all spheres of life, and more so to healthcare. Medical specialists and government planners can only grope in the dark if reliable data is not available. This could and often leads to wrong planning and resultantly undesirable consequences.
Young consultants have also announced that they will neither attend out-patients departments nor would they perform surgeries if they were not provided with PPE. They pointed out that social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were seldom adhered to at OPDs. Neglected and sick medical practitioners can only worsen the already grave coronavirus situation.


A nuclear Iran


The International Atomic Energy Agency has blamed Iran for violating all restrictions of the 2015 nuclear deal that was unceremoniously abandoned by US President Donald Trump in 2018. Even after that, Tehran continued to abide by the rules set by the international community regarding its nuclear programme. However, over the past few months, particularly since January 2020, when senior Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad airport, the Trump administration has turned up the pressure on Iran. Through hard-hitting economic sanctions and a complete blockade of the country, Trump has brought the Iranian economy to its knees. Almost all sectors of the Iranian financial system are crumbling under pressure from Washington.
If that was not enough, the Covid-19 health crisis has crushed Iran’s infrastructure. Under these circumstances, ordinary Iranians are suffering. They are increasingly frustrated and helpless. This also triggered several minor uprisings in Iran, which were mostly crushed or were never reported. With public discontent rising and the regime struggling for its survival, the only option for the clerics is to ensure they have a nuclear programme that is running and capable of producing a weapon at some point. Even if they are unable to produce a weapon, the mere fact that Iran is enriching uranium to a purity of up to 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the nuclear deal called JCPOA, indicates that Iran is inching closer to abandoning the nuclear pact.
The survival of the regime in Tehran now depends on acquiring a nuclear weapon that will serve as a bargaining chip. The message from Tehran is clear: If the world is unwilling to negotiate, Tehran is unwilling to give up on its nuclear ambitions. Sooner or later, once the US recovers from its internal leadership crisis, it will realise that the policy of maximum pressure is pushing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon — sooner than expected.
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