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The Express Tribune Editorial 11 April 2020

Soaring public debt

Debts are not bad if they are invested in development projects to bring socio-economic progress in the country, besides creating jobs and generating taxes. Such proper ultilisation of debts outweighs the cost of borrowing by spurring economic growth. That, unfortunately, has not been the case with Pakistan where money is primarily borrowed to service the debt obtained earlier, with the result that our public debt has continued to pile on and on — and at a faster pace, of late. See how. Between 1947 and 2008 i.e. during the first 59 years of the country’s existence, the successive governments made a Rs6 trillion worth of borrowing domestically as well as from foreign countries. However, the following 10 years — during which the PPP and the PML-N had one stint each at the Centre — saw the figure swelled to Rs24.2 trillion.
Then came the PTI, in 2018, with Prime Minister Imran Khan not just bitterly blaming the PPP and PML-N bosses for saddling the nation with huge debts but also pledging to cut the total public debt by half by the end of his government’s tenure in 2023. Untrue to his words though, Khan too stretched out a begging bowl, complaining of empty government coffers, so much so that left his predecessors far behind in obtaining loans, mainly from the IMF and some friendly countries. And according to a latest SBP report, the country’s total public debt has risen to Rs33.4 trillion as of February 2020 from Rs24.2 trillion at the time Khan took over. This shows an addition of Rs9.2 trillion to the debt burden, with the amount nearly equaling what each of the PPP and the PML-N had obtained during their full terms.
Even more appalling is the SBP’s forecast that the incumbent government is on track to double the public debt by the end of its term in 2023. Does that make a case for the PTI to be included in the debt probe ordered by PM Khan that primarily targets the PPP and the PML-N?


PMDC’s restoration

The Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) is to resume functioning after the Islamabad High Court settled a dispute between the former and the federal government. The absence of a regulator was a hurdle in the way of recruiting and registering new medical graduates at a time when more doctors are needed to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
The IHC recently gave the ruling that has paved the way for the PMDC to resume functioning. President Arif Alvi had promulgated an ordinance on Oct 19 last year under which the PMDC stood dissolved. The PMDC was to be replaced by the Pakistan Medical Commission. The presidential ordinance was challenged in the IHC. In February, the IHC restored the PMDC declaring the ordinance null and void. However, the PMDC could not resume functioning due to dispute with the government on issues like the number of PMDC employees to be taken back. The PMDC wanted all its employees, who had been on its rolls before the promulgation of the presidential ordinance, to be retained. The government was not willing to allow all the employees back on their jobs. Now the government, in concurrence with the court, has agreed to allow a limited number of the employees to resume their duties. The court has ordered the removal of law-enforcement personnel from the PMDC premises.
Concerned quarters had opposed the dissolution of the PMDC and its replacement by another body. They had viewed the government’s move with suspicion as they had claimed that the idea of PMC was floated by vested interests which had their own agenda to pursue. They had expressed fears that the formation of a commission would benefit those running private institutions of medical education and the new measure would also harm the interests of doctors. Medical professionals have welcomed the development, saying it has come when it was most needed in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The entire society salutes the healers in these testing times.


IOK: 250 days of lockdown

Just a few weeks under lockdown has people up in arms all over the world. This is despite the fact that they still have working high-speed internet, phones, and in some cases, the ability to keep doing their jobs. Now imagine India-Occupied Kashmir, where the lockdown is now entering its 250th day. And this is with no internet, no phones, and no jobs. Even essential supplies and medication were in short supply, as trade with India and the rest of the region was highly restricted. Even now, after some communications and internet were restored, heavy restrictions and lowered bandwidth meant that the internet was still largely unusable.
Then the coronavirus happened. Already 170 cases and at least five Covid-19 related deaths have been recorded in the region. The actual number would be significantly higher, given that India’s woefully low rate of testing nationwide is actually higher than the testing rate in the Kashmir region. Even a recent joint statement issued by six leading international human rights groups emphasises, beyond just the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns relating to India’s use of torture, ill-treatment, or arbitrarily depriving people of their liberty. The joint statement also reminded India of its obligation to ensure the physical and mental health and well-being of inmates at a time when it is filling jails with opposition politicians, academics, fruit vendors, and just about anyone else unfortunate enough to be Kashmiri and opposed to Narendra Modi or the BJP’s policies.
But here is where the statement becomes pointless. It goes on to remind India of its international obligations. Modi and company don’t care about international obligations; otherwise, they wouldn’t have annexed Kashmir in the first place. But what to talk of international obligations. India’s current leadership doesn’t even care about the Constitution of India. Subramanian Swamy, a former Harvard professor and one of Modi’s top advisers, recently told a US journalist that Muslims are not equal under the Constitution of India, even though Article 14 literally guarantees equality. Incidentally, Harvard sacked Swamy for being a bigot. He was also shunned by the more moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which makes him the perfect guiding light for the Indian PM.
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