Pakistan News

Some good news

Some good news

WHAT an auspicious start to the week. Despite being buried under layers of columns of news of the latest twists and turns of what has become a sordid Pakistani political saga, was an uplifting update in just a few of last Monday’s newspapers.

Yes, I was near ecstatic when I read the latest Unicef report on polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The top line said cases in the current (latest) period under review had dipped to five, yes just five, in the Pakistan from the 300 reported in 2014.

Afghanistan which, apart from Pakistan and Nigeria, remains the only country in the world that has still to eradicate the disease also saw the incidence decline to a mere 14 cases in the current period down from 80 in 2011. This was attributed to cross-border coordination. This coordination saw synchronised dates of vaccination campaigns for divided families of some three million-plus Afghan refugees in Pakistan many of whom routinely cross the border between the two countries.

Pak-Afghan cooperation has helped reduce the incidence of polio.

The Chaman border crossing received special attention as a polio ‘crossing point’, and vaccination campaigns were concentrated in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak too so those who crossed over were clear of the virus. It is a testament to the resolve and commitment of the vaccination teams on both sides that they have managed to operate on a virtual hot border with continuing breaches of peace by both militants and security forces exchanging fire.

One can’t express one’s gratitude to the heroes and heroines involved in the campaign as they have carried on despite being in the middle of hostilities. And, as we well know, they have also paid the ultimate price with their lives as they themselves have been targeted by obscurantists opposed to vaccinations.

If such coordination and cooperation is possible among polio-eradication teams, despite tensions on the border, one wonders what the two countries could achieve if they were to somehow settle their seemingly intractable political problems.

If this update makes you happy, it makes me doubly happy as I have lived with the limiting effects of polio since I was a little over two years old. For me, my disability may be the norm as I have no idea what it is to be able-bodied.

But I must also appreciate that polio caused much less disruption in my own life because I had a supportive family with enough means to help me through the earlier challenges of life and I was able to get a good education and grow up to be independent. The devastation caused to poor families by polio is unimaginable, even for me, as a disability can seriously impede the earning of livelihood through manual labour and the affected child can grow up to feel no better than someone having to live their whole lives dependent on others for the simplest of needs.

I hope that soon we, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and also Nigeria, are able to say confidently that we have seen the last of the polio virus and, at least, that won’t remain the cause of any more anguish. Then, we can move on to other critical challenges.

Talking of other challenges, there was another development this week which left me wondering if things would ever change in Pakistan in terms of the country’s political dynamics and the perilously poised balance of power we have created.

If you are wondering what’s the relevance of mentioning it here, wouldn’t you agree that whenever this power structure is rocked by turbulence due to one reason or the other, governance comes to a standstill and along with it the pursuit of development goals in a hugely challenging world?

When describing various levers that come into play in the power equilibrium, there has always been an elephant in the room euphemistically called the ‘establishment’ by commentators and the general public alike. But everyone seems to shy away from spelling out what it stands for.

Last week’s spat between the MQM-P and PSP, the two parties vying for control of Sindh’s urban centres in the post-Altaf Hussain era, where both traded accusations of being goaded into merger negotiations by the Establishment, it seems, forced the DG Sindh Rangers to speak out.

Talking to Dunya TV, Maj-Gen Mohammad Saeed rubbished allegations of attempting political engineering and said the “military establishment” may have acted only to ensure peace in Sindh and lower temperatures as it did not want a clash between MQM-P and PSP.

But he did not rule out that a security official may have suggested to the two parties that a merger between them could lower tensions, eliminate hostile rhetoric and perhaps lead to an environment particularly in Karachi where the cause of peace would be served no end.

With this clarity on who and what exactly constituted the establishment, the only debate left was about the role of institutions as, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s statement decrying any possible political engineering suggested.

That is a debate which, I suspect, will continue for the foreseeable future as there seems no end in sight to the public expression of the governing PML-N that its top leadership was being targeted and punished not for owning properties abroad via offshore companies well beyond their demonstrable means but for attempting to establish civilian supremacy in the affairs of the state.

Depending on your own political perspective you will either agree to disagree with the PML-N’s position or assume that the real truth may be found somewhere between the party’s stance and the stance of those who say its position is nonsensical and all that is happening is an indiscriminate enforcement of the law.

Whatever the case I, for one, am getting a bit weary of all the headlines being dominated by this debate while issues of import to the masses such as poverty alleviation and the provision of the most basic social services are seemingly taking a back seat. What would it take to push those issues to the fore?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
[email protected]

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2017

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