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The Express Tribune Editorial 22 January 2020

Looming sugar crisis?


We are in a season of crises. One crisis is coming after the other. In this winter of our discontent, first emerged the gas crisis which is stubbornly persisting, then came the wheat and wheat flour crisis and now there is a sugar crisis in the making. All these crises bite all segments of society. Sugar price has risen as a high as Rs64 a kilo over the past 14 months. Over the past one week, wholesale prices of sugar have increased from Rs64 to Rs74 a kg. Business circles fear that the country might experience a severe shortage of sugar soon. In about a week, the price of sugar is expected to touch Rs80 a kg in the wholesale market. The country is expected to produce 5.5 million tons of sugar this year, showing a decrease of 5% over last year’s output.
Traders have demanded of the government to stop the export of sugar and take measures to curb speculation in the commodity to avert the looming crisis. They say the shortage of sugar would also occur because of unplanned estimates of consumption within the country and its exports like it happened in the case of wheat and wheat flour.
The cost of food in Pakistan has increased 16.88% in December 2019 over the same month in the previous year. With increasing prices of wheat flour, the ever-increasing rates of gas and power and the feared rise in sugar prices and the rising prices of all food items, the food inflation is likely soar to new highs. The price of sugar had risen as high as Rs105 a kilo during the Musharraf regime. The then Chief Justice of Pakistan had ordered shopkeepers to sell the commodity at lower prices, but to no avail. The sickening regularity with which crises and shortages of foodstuffs are occurring in an agricultural country only shows that corruption, mismanagement and incompetence have now been brought to a lunatic level.


Free press


Life is difficult for a journalist in Pakistan. That’s what a recent report also confirms. Titled ‘Pakistan Media Freedom Report 2019’, it says that seven journalists were murdered and 15 others injured in the line of duty during the outgoing year. Besides, a good 60 were also booked over various charges, including those related to terrorism, says the report released by the CPNE on Sunday. Among those posing threats to the lives of journalists are non-state actors and outlawed militant groups, besides mysterious and unidentified elements. That not a single killer or attacker has been brought to justice is what describes the apathy towards the dangerous treatment meted out to the representatives of this “fourth pillar of the state” called media. And that Pakistan is ranked 142 on the World Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries of the world shows how “free” the media in our country is.
With Pakistan’s ranking on the index more or less the same over the last two decades, no government over the years can escape the blame for a media that continues to be suppressed, intimidated, chained and silenced. Even the incumbent government had planned to set up media courts to, what they said, resolve journalists’ grievances, but dropped the proposal in the wake of a strong resistance from the various stakeholders. It goes without saying that no democracy can flourish without a free press. Political leaders, therefore, have the biggest stake in free press. It’s the politicians who, eventually, stand to lose for not making their contributing to freedom of the press when in power. The freedom the representatives of a government allow to the media is the freedom they benefit from when in the opposition. And the curbs they impose on the media are, in fact, the curbs on their own future. The role of free press in institution building — as in other areas of core national concern — cannot be over-emphasised either.


Alice’s agenda


The top American diplomat for South Asia dropped by Islamabad with an unusually heavy agenda. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells flew in from New Delhi on Sunday to discuss issues ranging from a peace deal in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s potential blacklisting by the FATF, and illegal migration. On Monday, Wells told Interior Minister Brig (retd) Ijaz Shah that the US appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to curb illegal migration from Pakistan to the US. She also expressed American interest in further improving checks and balances to curb illegal immigration. Shah noted that Pakistan has also addressed another US concern by allowing international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) to present their arguments before they are denied permission to operate in the country.
Also under discussion, and perhaps the most critical point for Pakistan, was the FATF review meeting in Beijing. While Wells said Pakistan has made “heartening” progress on FATF concerns in a short period of time, blacklisting is still a genuine possibility if the organisation’s conditions are not met. That is, of course, unless the US used its influence to get Pakistan removed from the grey list altogether. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also discussed related issues during his trip to Washington. Some reports suggest that Pakistan has offered to help the US in its dealings with the Taliban and Iran, although most of these reports relied on anonymous sources.
But the US does need help in Afghanistan, where even the Taliban expressed hopes of signing a ceasefire agreement by the end of January. Reuters quoted sources as saying that the Taliban were ready to agree to a 10-day truce with US forces, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces, and to open talks with Afghan officials if a deal is reached. The Afghan government has also spoken with optimism about a potential ceasefire. Pakistan could play into this equation which would be seen as the first step towards a peaceful and sustainable solution to America’s longest-running war. Whether that role is of a mediator, a guarantor, a thumb on the scale, or something else, remains to be seen.
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