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The Express Tribune Editorial 29 April 2020

Much-needed change

In what appears to be a major policy shift coming at a time when the country is faced with serious external challenges amid the looming dangers of the fifth-generation warfare, Prime Minister Imran Khan has chosen an ex-serviceman to bolster his information ministry — to speak eloquently on behalf of the state; to project the national narrative on issues of regional and global importance in an effective way; and to lift the country’s image the world over by separating wrong perceptions from the reality. Lt Gen (retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa, a former military spokesperson, will serve as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information, replacing Firdous Ashiq Awan. Simultaneously, Senator Shibli Faraz, a PTI stalwart, has been appointed as Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting to deal with the media on day-to-day affairs involving the government.
Bajwa’s appointment to the information ministry could not have come at a more opportune time — when the Hindutva-inspired Narendra Modi and his BJP are baying for the blood of their ‘enemies’, both within their borders and outside, in line with the Mahabharata fables; when the religiously-motivated Indian leaders have unleashed their saffron-clad goons on their Muslim population to counter the so-called ‘Corona Jihad’; when these callous monarchs are hell-bent upon robbing the Kashmiris of their true identity; when they are conspiring to stretch their nefarious designs into Afghanistan to deny the war-ravaged country a rare and real chance for peace just for the sake of fulfillment of their thinly-veiled pursuit of Akhand Bharat; and when CPEC forms the prime target of all our enemies right from our next-door neighbour to our strategic partner overseas.
That Bajwa’s is a much-needed change has no two opinions. He is indeed the man for the job, having led the military’s media wing, the ISPR, for a good four years between 2012 and 2016 at a most crucial time in the global war on terror. Well versed in the art of image-building, Bajwa is the one to have introduced the tweet culture for quick dissemination of information. His illustrious career as a solider — especially his services with Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the serving army chief, as well as Gen (retd) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Gen (retd) Raheel Sharif, the former army chiefs — enables him with the ins and outs of the hybrid warfare, the new art of war. Furthermore, Bajwa is gifted with all other requisites for spokesmanship: he is tolerant, knowledgeable, articulate and has good conversation skills. The right choice, indeed.


Confusion galore

Perhaps, never before had the world faced such a fearful dilemma as it is facing now in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Personnel of the Lahore police, deployed to enforce the lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, are facing problems due to inconsistent policies of the administration, which they keep changing nearly on a daily basis. This is adding to the worries of the police, who like other human beings, are also under immense psychological stress due to the lingering pandemic. The ever-changing policies of the administration are hindering the performance of the law enforcers. A few days ago, as the authorities decided to ease the lockdown two-thirds of the more than 170 police pickets set up in the city were removed. However, the next day the lockdown was tightened and the pickets reappeared. The same night most of the pickets vanished again. The vanishing and reappearing of pickets continued with frequent loosening and tightening of the lockdown.
Quoting a senior police officer, a report in this newspaper says the lack of consistency in policies on the lockdown is due to two opinions prevailing among the decision-makers. One group is in favour of enforcing a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. This group deals with those who are on the frontline of the fight against the microbe like doctors, paramedics and the police. The other group supports a smart lockdown in view of the severe economic consequences of a complete lockdown. Besides, there are people who believe in ‘herd immunity model’. They are also for a partial lockdown. If this model has worked in other countries, it can be given a cautious try. When caught between two evils one has to choose the lesser evil.


SMEs package

The government finally appears to have noticed that the big guns of the business world are not the only ones whose pockets are feeling lighter because of the coronavirus lockdown. The worst-hit victims — small businesses and daily-wage workers — had gotten little in the form of relief, especially compared to the hundreds of billions pumped into big businesses, until now. The ECC has allocated Rs75 billion to assist labourers and daily-wage workers who are out of work due to the lockdowns. Another Rs50.69 billion has been set aside to provide indirect support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through pre-paid electricity. The assistance for small businesses will be available for commercial connections of less than five kilowatts and industrial consumers using less than 70 kilowatts. According to Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, around 3.5 million people running small businesses like tailor shops, and small industrial units will benefit.
The government is also working on a zero-interest loan package which, if properly deployed, could be a Godsent for small businesses. A credit-loss subsidy of Rs30 billion to support employment and discourage employers from laying off workers was also approved. The relief package for daily-wage workers aims to provide Rs12,000 each to as many as six million people. But the devil is in the detail. Azhar says that labourers will have to register themselves by accessing a web portal and filling in some information. Despite the ubiquity of cell phones, computer literacy is still very low. Among daily wage workers, literacy itself is also very low, leaving them open to exploitation by agents, or worse yet, unable to access any of the funds. Meanwhile, older people and those lacking technical knowledge have been left in the lurch regarding both income support and loan programmes.
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