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The Express Tribune Editorial 25 January 2020

More loyal than the king


It emerged this week that two officials of the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) have been suspended for the poor cleanliness at Rawal Dam. The action was taken after PM Imran Khan took notice of poor cleanliness in and around the dam which supplies water to Rawalpindi. The only catch was that the two suspended officers – the IMC chief inspector and the chief supervisor – had nothing to do with maintaining cleanliness. Interestingly, the department responsible for the cleanliness of Rawal Dam is the Punjab Small Dams Project. The Islamabad district administration, in its haste to please the PM, even conducted a small cleanliness activity at the lake even though it does not fall within its jurisdiction.
The matter of supplying dirty and contaminated waters is quite a serious one. So serious, in fact, that it was Imran himself who had filed a complaint with the human rights cell of the Supreme Court a few years ago. After several hearings, the court had directed the government to set up wastewater treatment plants at the lake and on all in-flowing streams. Curiously, Imran’s own government has now been lethargic in implementing the court’s orders. More so, the PM – a resident of Islamabad for the better part of two decades, particularly residing in an area whose raw effluents drain into the lake and pollute it – has failed to address this key issue concerning the capital city. Just a few weeks ago, IMC sanitation workers had gone on a strike because the corporation had no money to pay their wages that had been blocked for months. It took a strike by the workers and for the stench of garbage in every street to reach the corridors of power before the necessary funds were released.
Provision of clean drinking water is an inalienable, fundamental right and the government must take adequate steps to ensure the same rather than scapegoating two lowly employees who have nothing to do with the matter.


Defending CPEC


Pakistan and China have rejected American claims that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is only being financed through loans and other non-concessional financing. Various ministries have been on a defensive charge to counter claims made by US diplomat Alice Wells a few days back. The Foreign Office spokesperson claimed that CPEC debt only amounts to “$4.9 billion, which is not even 10 per cent of the country’s total debt”. The spokesperson said CPEC has helped Pakistan address development gaps in various areas and gave the specific example of power plants with a total capacity of 7,000 MW. She also claimed that CPEC has enhanced regional connectivity and prosperity by providing enormous economic benefits for the people of Pakistan, along with socioeconomic development. The Planning Ministry separately claimed that the projects completed so far “have already brought relief and started yielding dividends and tangible socioeconomic benefits”. It said that CPEC projects will accelerate development and economic growth.
But there was also an oddly defensive line about “Pakistan being a sovereign state that exercises the right to choose economic partners…on a mutually beneficial basis.” This is common knowledge in all trade deals, which makes it a strange point to stress on. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also stressed that when it comes to the CPEC, Pakistan “will continue to do what is beneficial to us”.
China, meanwhile, called the US statement “negative propaganda” and said that it strongly opposed US interference in China-Pakistan relations and CPEC. The Chinese Embassy claimed that Beijing always puts the interests of Pakistan’s people first in CPEC projects. The embassy statement also listed a series of CPEC-related achievements, including that CPEC projects have significantly improved Pakistan’s transportation infrastructure and power supply while creating over 75,000 jobs.
There were also direct attacks on US foreign policy in the statement. Criticism was focused on America’s use of sanctions for “blacklisting this and that country”, in reference to the Wells’ claim that blacklisted companies were working on CPEC-related projects. The embassy claimed US blacklisting had less to do with protecting the global economy, and more with its own political goals.


Fire in shanty town


Whenever a devastating fire destroys a shanty town, people tend to attribute it to natural causes or they think that the fire might have been caused with an evil intent to get the land vacated. It is generally believed that some such fires are caused deliberately by vested interests. On the night of Jan 21, around 150 huts were destroyed when a fire engulfed a shanty town in Teen Hatti locality of Karachi, rendering 450 to 500 people homeless. The slum settlement is spread over two acres.
Victims say they are affectees of the Lyari Expressway, and since they have not been provided with alternative accommodations, they were living in the shanty town. Most of the belongings of the fire victims were destroyed. The fire occurred around 10 at night and soon it engulfed the entire locality. During the fire or even after it was put out, only few items could be salvaged from the burned- out huts. According to media reports, some of the affectees have been shifted to a nearby school, but some are still living under the open sky in this cold weather. They say living under the open sky in winter is particularly harsh at night. Most of the fire victims work as domestic help or sell flowers and other small articles to keep their body and soul together.
The Sindh government and non-governmental organisations are providing the fire victims with food, blankets, warm clothes and medicines. Besides Edhi and Chhipa, other volunteer organisations are also providing relief to the fire victims. The Karachi Commissioner, Iftikhar Shallwani, has formed a committee to inquire into the causes of the fire and suggest measures to avoid such incidents in the future. The committee is to submit its report in two weeks.
The poor are the most vulnerable to incidents like fire because of their living conditions. Society bears an obligation to provide succour to the unfortunate among them.
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