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The Express Tribune Editorial 25 June 2020

Diplomatic dispute

Islamabad and New Dehli have gone back to tit-for-tat ejections of diplomats. After India said it would cut the staff strength allowed for the Pakistani High Commission in the Indian capital within a week, Islamabad promised to respond in kind. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi defended the conduct of Pakistani diplomats while accusing Indian diplomats of indulging in illegal activities. He reportedly accused India of making an “illegal” and “provocative” move to cover up New Delhi’s domestic and international failures.
We may add that the move is mostly for domestic audiences, given that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accidentally admitted that India has lost control of land when he said “no Chinese troops entered Indian territory”. This implies that the Indian soldiers who died were on Chinese soil. Meanwhile, Russia — a close Indian ally — is apparently not interested in intervening on India’s behalf. With pressure rising, Modi’s only face-saving option, as we have previously discussed in these columns, is to change the news cycle.
The diplomatic dispute has multiple angles. On May 31, India expelled two Pakistani officials on allegations of spying, although the evidence presented even in the most compliant of Indian media was flimsy at best. Then there was the incident of Indian diplomats being held after a hit-and-run incident in Islamabad. India claims Pakistan violated diplomatic norms, but never tried to explain why the two men were held in the first place or acknowledge that they were allowed to leave the police station after their diplomatic credentials were checked out.
Given that the Raymond Davis incident is still alive in the public memory, Pakistan was just acting cautiously, not illegally. Yet India began claiming the two reckless drivers were “forcibly abducted” and held for 10 hours. This is why the Foreign Office called out India’s “smear campaign against Pakistan” and noted how India was trying to “distort facts and deny the culpability of these Indian High Commission officials in criminal offences”.
At the end of the day, while the expulsions may not make a huge difference as little diplomatic engagement is taking place these days, such scapegoating sets a terrible precedent.


Fawad leaks


Fawad Chaudhry continues to grab headlines in the media. Even despite Covid-19 consuming most of the airtime in news bulletins, the federal minister for science and technology has been generating big news for quite some time — be it the Eid moon sighting, the locally-manufactured ventilators or the indigenous testing kits. And now Fawad’s recent interview with the American broadcaster has been the talk of the town. No revelation though, whatever the outspoken politician has said about his own party, the ruling PTI, does confirm what was hitherto dismissed as rumours.
In the 24-minute interview, Fawad talks of grouping within the party, bureaucratic encroachment on political space, depleting civilian supremacy and poor team selection as reasons behind the “failure of the PTI government” to serve the people in line with “Imran Khan’s vision”. He sees six months more for the government to put their act together or else …?
Fawad’s leaks created quite a stir in both mainstream and social media, and even caused a slugfest during a cabinet meeting where a loud and unmanageable minister, from Karachi, had reportedly to be taken out of the room by the PM when he indicated using his muscle power against a senior minister. Sounds like a house in disarray, a typical post-match huddle with losing members of a team turning on each other and trading barbs and blames.
What made Fawad come up with a charge-sheet against his own party is anybody’s guess. The federal minister may have been speaking out of frustration of not being among the core group of the party; he may have his eyes on the next elections; and he may well be toeing a hidden agenda, something that’s quite a regular feature of our parliamentary politics.
Fawad did not directly blame PM Imran Khan for what he counts as government’s failures, but his take on the government’s performance does falsify Khan’s political narrative that lays blame at the door of “status quo parties” for all what ails the country now


Elusive mass transit


The Sindh capital, Karachi, has seen many plans drawn up for mass transit projects, but few have gone beyond the paper stage. As a result, over the years, public transport in the biggest city of the country has gone on shrinking while its population continues to swell. The Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit Project had kindled a new ray of hope, but this too has inordinately been delayed. Work on the project’s construction was inaugurated in 2016 by then Sindh chief minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, and the project was to be completed in four years. Since the imposition of a lockdown in March this year the construction work has come to a grinding halt. Even before this, work had been moving at a snail’s pace.
Besides the stoppage of work on the project, now it has hit several snags. The provincial government has earmarked Rs843.3 million for the project in the budget for 2020-2021 but no amount has so far been released. Officially, 75% of work has been completed on the project. A Sindh government official says provincial authorities had made several political hirings in the Sindh Mass Transit Authority, under whose supervision the Orange Line Project is being executed. Finding it difficult to carry on with the project the provincial government has sought the Centre’s assistance.
Under a latest agreement with the federal government, while the Sindh government will bear the cost of the project, the former will procure 25 buses and handle the megaproject’s operations for a period of three years. After three years, the federal government will hand over the buses and the project’s operations to the Sindh government. Officials in the provincial government attribute the delay in the completion of the project also to non-payment of contractors’ dues. They claim the provincial government is creating hurdles in the way of clearing contractors’ arrears. However, the main reason for the delay in the project’s completion is lack of political will.
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