Express Tribune Editorials | July 16, 2020

Differently-abled people

Delay marks functioning of the officialdom in Pakistan. A petition was filed by representatives of differently-abled people in the Supreme Court in 2015 and the top court has been issuing orders on a regular basis for governments and others concerned to provide necessary facilities to the handicapped to facilitate them, yet not much has been done in this regard. Even the data on the number of the special people is not available, so a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, presided over by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, recently ordered the authorities to release the data on the relevant website as this could help give a proper idea as to what facilities such people had been provided with and to what extent. Justice Ijazul Ahsan said the court had issued various orders since 2015 telling the authorities to provide the required facilities to the special people in transport, hospitals and buildings. “Individual complainants can go to the relevant forum from now onwards” for provision of such facilities wherever they were not available.

The petitioners’ lawyers said there were many things that needed to be done with regard to facilities, so the court should not close the case at this stage. He said the federal government did not have proper statistics on people with disabilities. The Chief Justice asked an additional attorney general about this. The law officer said a data had been gathered through a survey. The CJP ordered that the statistics should be put on the relevant website, saying the actual number of special people could only be known after the census. This shows that in the 2016 census the differently-abled were not counted. A law officer of the Sindh government said the provincial government had fixed a 5% quota for special people in government jobs while the Centre has reserved 1% jobs for such people. He said this had left officials confused as to which quota should be followed.


Forgotten Afghan refugees

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, millions of poor Afghans rushed through the borders into Pakistan for safety. They became the largest displaced community in the world at that point in time. Nearly six million fled Afghanistan and came to Pakistan for safety and shelter. For many of them, it became their home away from home. But for a developing country like Pakistan where millions were and are below the breadline, the influx of people became a burden on the country’s exchequer. While 4.4 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan under the UNHCR-facilitated voluntary repatriation operation, Pakistan is still home to 1.4 million registered refugees. The cost of their stay comes straight from Pakistan’s already depleted and dry kitty. And with the Covid-19 pandemic raging in the region and the idea of lasting peace in Afghanistan still a distant dream, these displaced individuals have no option but to stay where they are.

In such circumstances, the global community must feel the urgency of action required to support the displaced Afghans. For too long, Pakistan has shouldered that burden. It is about time for the world to take some financial responsibility to cater to projects in education, health, energy, water, and community infrastructure both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now in its fifth decade, the Afghan crisis is in dire need of attention and support from not just the host countries but the wealthy nations that have conveniently forgotten about the conflict and its consequences — primarily because it has dragged beyond its expected expiration date. Without security, stability, and the assurance that these individuals will be reintegrated into the society back in Afghanistan, it is almost impossible to expect the refugees to return.

While the world needs to loosen the purse strings, it also needs to come together to ensure that there is lasting peace in Afghanistan — just so these displaced individuals can finally return to their homeland.


Chabahar shock to Modi

After Ladakh blunder comes the Chabahar shock. While the former inflicts a haunting military trauma, the latter deals a deadly diplomatic blow — shattering India’s dream of regional hegemony that had already been jolted due to the latest situation in Afghanistan where Narendra Modi’s ally Ashraf Ghani is only delaying a Taliban-led administration. All this points towards India’s growing regional isolation. Not to forget that New Delhi’s all eggs are in the Donald Trump’s basket, while the latest popularity poll shows the American President lagging significantly behind his presumptive Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

Coming to the latest setback to Modi, Iran has excluded India from the Chabahar rail project. Featuring the construction of rail line between Chabahar port to Zahedan, the project was part of a trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan, envisaging a trade route connecting the three countries and providing them access to Central Asian and Europe. However, Iran has now decided to construct the 628km rail line by March 2022 without the assistance from India. What has caused Iran to opt out of the agreement signed four years back?

While Tehran has cited financing delays on the part of New Delhi for fears of US sanctions, it is now widely reported that a $400 billion strategic partnership deal between Iran and China has resulted in the Chabahar rail project ending up a political casualty. According to the reports, the cooperation between the two sides will span 25 years and extend from investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and upgradation of energy and transport facilities, to refurbishment of ports, refineries and other installations, and will commit Iranian oil and gas supplies to China during that period. Chabahar rail line is now a part of this massive deal.

While the $400 billion strategic partnership provides the much-needed lifeline to Iran whose economy has been crippled due to the international sanctions, it will give China more access to the Indian Ocean region through the Chabahar port. As for India — for which the Chabahar port was to counter-balance Pakistan’s Gwadar Port — the deal serves a knockout punch.

Disclaimer: Published in Express Tribune, July 16, 2020

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