The grand gathering in Kabul
Should the Afghan government release the 400 Taliban prisoners, whose hands have blood of scores of innocent people? This is the million dollar question that is being taken up by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Loya Jirga, attended by thousands of prominent citizens in Kabul. The Afghan government is in a fix: if it releases the hardcore militants, it will be injustice to civilians and army personnel who were killed by the Taliban militants in terrorist activities; if it does not, Taliban are likely to step out of peace talks and their agreement with the US inked in Doha, and the country may lose a chance to give a chance to peace. Once prisoners are freed, peace talks between the two warring sides may be resumed. The Afghan government must be lauded for releasing almost 5,000 Taliban prisoners in earlier phases, but the release of the remaining 400 prisoners is quite difficult for them. Taliban could have gone ahead in the talks but they balked at the prospects of peace talks without getting freed their fighters. The three-day Jirga, which will conclude on Sunday has to reach a conclusion as Taliban say as soon as the last batch of 400 militants is released, then within three days direct talks will start; in case of no development, Taliban will intensify gun attacks. Taliban know that in the US election year, they have bargain chips on their sides. For that reason, the US camp is also hoping for the release of prisoners. In this regard, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also stressed the Afghan authorities to release the detainees, even though it is an unpopular decision.
In the matters of war and peace, difficult decisions have to be made, but such measures have far-reaching consequences. Taliban have a history of making agreements and breaching them at their will. In fact, they have never proved to be men of words. On the other hand, Pompeo insists that “this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war”. If the US wants to see the Taliban prisoners as free men, it should keep watching their activities. Meanwhile, Taliban have least regard for the grand gathering, calling it illegal. Pakistan needs to take a wise decision with the US cooperation on the Afghan peace process.
The launch of mega projects
Within two days, the country has launched as many trillion rupee projects. On Thursday, the executive committee of the National Economic Council approved a project for improvement of the vital railway line construction estimated at Rs1.137 trillion and on Friday Prime Minister Imran Khan has laid the foundation stone of the Ravi City project. The Rs5 trillion Ravi City project aims at creating stimulus to the economy in terms of job creation besides boosting 40 industries connected to the construction sector. The progress shows that the government is well determined to come out of the pandemic-hit economic slowdown. The prime minister also told the bureaucracy to make the project a success. He has deployed a team for the project to identify and resolve resistance and roadblocks created by procedural works. Those were the times when Imran Khan, then an opposition leader, would blast development projects a waste of wealth, and would insist on human development. He, however, cleared his point that said the wealth generated from development projects would be spent on education and health of people. Urban housing also remains a pressing issue and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf pledged 50 million houses once into power. More schemes like the Ravi River Upfront are needed to stop the spread of unplanned urban sprawl and raise the water table and revive the River Ravi. The river presents a nulla look, and the nulla of sewage and untreated water. The new scheme addresses the environmental issues as waste water would be treated before being released into the Ravi to improve ground water table. Moreover, a forest area of six million trees will be grown around the river.
The multi-billion dollars project will be developed along the 46km stretch of the river. It is however, yet to be seen if the project will cater to the needs of lower middle and low-income class or not. In recent times, all real estate projects are mostly for the wealthy people. The government needs to come up with a well-thought-out master plan for eco-revitalisation of the Ravi River basin instead of coming up with a water treatment plant. The government should also consider the land cost along the river and if this is beyond the paying capacity of the common man, the development work is a futile exercise. The answer to these concerns lies in a new Lahore Master Plan.
Published in Daily Times, August 9, 2020