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The Express Tribune Editorial 24 January 2020

Imran in Davos


Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meetings on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland have generated several interesting tidbits, but the biggest story was probably from his meeting with US President Donald Trump. Even before the meeting, Trump had made headlines in Pakistan by claiming that the US-Pakistan relationship had never been as strong as it is right now.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that during the meeting, Trump assured Imran that he would be visiting Pakistan “soon”. The FM also said that the hour-long meeting between the two leaders was “very productive”, and that the topics discussed included US support against Pakistan’s potential blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force, review of the current US travel advisory for Pakistan, Kashmir, and mutual trade issues. Imran apparently made clear Pakistan’s concerns regarding the increased tensions between Iran and the US, while also bringing up the peace negotiations in Afghanistan. Also of note was the fact that in a press talk just before meeting Imran, Trump once again brought up his offer to mediate in the Kashmir dispute, a proposal that has repeatedly been rejected by India.
But foreign relations weren’t the only thing that came up in Davos. It is, after all, an economic forum. Imran also met with several leaders from high-tech industries and pitched Pakistan as a potential investment destination for them. Siemens, YouTube, and SAP were just a few of the companies whose heads the prime minister spoke to. The head of software maker SAP was quoted by the Prime Minister’s Office as saying that the company was interested in training software engineers in Germany and then using them for software development in Pakistan at labs that could be established in the country. SAP already has a working relationship with Pakistan through its involvement in digitisation efforts in various departments. Siemens and YouTube’s heads also discussed similar efforts, albeit on a smaller scale. With nothing concrete on the table yet, we can only hope that these meetings lead to fruitful outcomes for Pakistan because the economy could really use some good news right about now.


Infectious diseases in jails


In an important way forward, the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah, has converted an inquiry commission on jail reforms, headed by Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, into an implementation commission to work on bringing about improvement in jail conditions across the country. “Shocking” is how the honourable chief justice reacted as he examined the contents of the inquiry commission’s report. Quite rightly, the miserable condition of the inmates is “a classic example of lack of rule of law”, as observed by the top judge of the Islamabad High Court.
Overcrowding, unclean barracks, filthy bathrooms, substandard meals, belligerent jail staff, harassing oversight mechanism, discouraging arrangements for relatives of the prisoners visiting jails, and lack of adequate facilities to gain knowledge and skills and make proper use of time spent behind bars are among the problems that receive scant attention from the authorities concerned despite being talked about time and again. However, the most shocking of all is an alarming lack of medical and clinical facilities which is resulting in a large number of prisoners contracting serious diseases, including those that are life-threatening.
According to the report presented to the court, amongst the total prison population of 75,813, as many as 5,100 inmates are not leading a healthy life. Of the total ailing inmates, 2,400 are suffering from contagious diseases like HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis; 2,100 have been affected by physical ailments; and 600 prisoners are mentally challenged. Such a big number of ailing inmates — who remain largely unattended to as well — speaks volumes of the apathy, disregard and indifference of state functionaries towards ordinary citizens. As ordered by the honourable judge, the commission must take urgent steps in consultation with the Federal Ministry of Health and the chief secretaries of the respective provinces, particularly with regard to the prisoners suffering from infectious diseases.


Corruption perception


Pakistan has gone down three notches on the global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2019 of Transparency International from the previous year’s ranking despite increased anti-corruption efforts. In the CPI 2019 released on Jan 23, Pakistan ranks 120 out of 180 countries. On a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), the country has been assigned a score of 32, a point lower than its score of 33 on the 2018 index and well below the global average of 43. The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives.
Transparency International Pakistan Chairman Sohail Muzaffar said the TI Secretariat had explained Pakistan’s lowering on the index by referring to the fact many countries had not performed well this year. Many developed countries such as Canada, France, the United Kingdom and Denmark have scored less than last year. He said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under its current chairman had performed much better, and it took various initiatives, including adopting the combined investigation team system, to have a wise course in the conduct of inquiries on merit. A TIP statement said NAB had collected Rs153 billion from corrupt elements and filed 530 references and its overall conviction ratio in the accountability courts was round 70%. The TIP said analysis showed countries that performed well on the CPI had a stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations and a broader range of political consultation. These countries had an average score of 70 on the CPI but countries where such regulations either don’t exist or were poorly enforced scored an average of only 34 and 35. TI stresses the need for tackling the relationship between politics and big money. There is, however, a popular perception in Third World countries that despite all the talks about the need for eliminating corruption, in practical life they see corruption winning more than honesty. This perception needs to be removed.
January 24, 2020
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