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Daily Times Editorials – 21th March 2016

Pak-India cricket match

In the framework of match-scheduling, March 19 saw an impeccable move by the International Cricket Council in the context of Twenty20 (T20) World Cups being held in India. Cricket being the most followed sub-continental sport, and games between the traditional ‘rivals’ Pakistan and India touted as some of the most-watched cricket-viewing events in the history of cricket, the two matches in New Delhi and Kolkata on Saturday became the highlight of the tournaments, which still have quarter, semi and final matches. The first one was the Women World T20 game between Pakistan and India, and the other between the men’s teams of Pakistan and India. Led by Sana Mir, Pakistan produced a solid performance, thus clinching a victory decided on the Duckworth-Lewis method after rain in Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, Delhi. Using six bowlers, Mir’s team kept the pressure on India restricting them to 96, and at 77-4, the match was given in Pakistan’s favour after heavy rain stopped the game.

It is an interesting, and moreover, an unfortunate reality of Pakistan cricket that this victory of women’s team would not have received so much attention if it was not against India, and on a day when the men’s team was also playing against India. Courtesy the T20 format, the game of cricket has assumed a level of popularity that has more to do with instanification of results, hyped publicity, oversized game-fee, presence of high-profile personalities and big-stake transmission rights than with the intricacies of cricket. And while there is no reason to negate the popularity of T20 matches, or the ones played between Pakistan and India, this highlights the scant attention given to other popular sports — hockey, football, tennis, squash, badminton, boxing, wrestling — in the subcontinent. That in turn perpetuates an environment of disenchantment and decline of spirit in players of other sports, which subsequently results in the domination of one sport. And while that has its positive side, there is an undeniable pressure and exaggerated expectations from players of a sport — cricket — that requires an unquantifiable mix of talent, selection, practice, perseverance and single-mindedness during all games. All World Cup matches are considered important, but the level of anticipation that is reserved for Pakistan-India matches is in a league of its own.

Disconcerting it is in the structure of the importance of a World Cup to have Pakistan team be labelled terrific but unpredictable. Magnificent individual talent but an absence of collective match-winning ability: this is one refrain about Pakistan team that would be palatable if not true. Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 55 in his trademark brilliance, each shot placed carefully and confidently, backed by Yuvraj Singh’s batting, not only ensured his team’s victory by reaching Pakistan’s total of 119 with six wickets in hand, but also bagged him the Man of the Match award. Pakistan’s team performed well, and had there been more effectiveness in their bowling — playing with four pacers on a spin-friendly wicket, and having replaced Imad Wasim with Mohammad Sami — the result may have been the same but with less winning-margin given to India. The Indian batting line-up is one of the best in the world at the moment, and the same could be said of Pakistan’s bowling strength. But no amount of good bowling by Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Sami would produce an innings-win if it were not propped by solid fielding. A weak score has to be supported by excellent bowling, and flawless fielding in a limited-over match, and Pakistan’s fielding, invariably and consistently, is shoddy and not up to the standard of a World Cup tournament.

The Saturday match, which appeared to be on verge of cancellation due to heavy rain in Kolkata, flagged off in flamboyance, presided by West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, with Amitabh Bachchan, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Sunil Gawaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. After Shafqat Ali Khan’s insipid rendition of Pakistan’s national anthem to a crowd of 61,337 and billion-plus cricket viewers across world, it was Amitabh Bachchan’s singing of Indian national anthem that would go on to become the highlight of the match that had the who’s who of India — like Nita and Anil Ambani — in the stadium.

March 19 match had another byline: “India have never lost to Pakistan in any World Cup; Pakistan have never lost to India at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.” India’s victory nullified the second part too.

EU-Turkey deal

The European Union (EU) and Turkey have finalised a controversial deal in a bid to mitigate the ongoing refugee crisis. Since the start of 2015, more than a million migrants have crossed into Europe in the hopes of getting resettled and starting a better life. The main force behind this dramatic rise in migration has been the Syrian civil war, a conflict that has displaced more than four million people and ravaged the country, thereby driving many to look towards Europe for salvation. People from other conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan and Iraq are also headed to Europe in droves in the hopes of getting asylum. The number of incoming people has overwhelmed European countries, and for many months the EU has been suffering from sharp divisions regarding the best strategy to handle the increasing crisis. While Europe has been dithering amidst rising incidents of racism and Islamophobia, the quest to get to the safety of fortress Europe by droves of desperate people escaping a living hell has become a human tragedy of nightmarish proportions. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have lost their lives in the treacherous illegal journey towards Europe, whether by sea or land.

Finally, it seems that the EU has come to a consensus on how to proceed with solving this crisis. The thrust of the deal has been led, once again, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been the most prominent voice calling for a more humane treatment of Syrian refugees. The most significant aspect of the deal is the aim to stem the influx of refugees entering Europe by closing the main route by which a million migrants and refugees poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the last year. As per the terms agreed, all ‘irregular migrants’, i.e. migrants and refugees lacking documentation, crossing from Turkey into Greece will be sent back to Turkey. In exchange for every ‘irregular’ Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, Europe will accept one Syrian refugee living in Turkey, with the upper limit being 72,000. Moreover, Turkey stands to make further gains from this deal such as financial aid of up 3 billion Euros to help with resettling refugees, and an understanding to restart talks about granting Turkey a membership of the EU. Human rights activists have however criticised the deal as a dehumanising barter of people and have called into question the legality of sending back people who are seeking asylum; furthermore concerns are raised that closing off the main route will only encourage human traffickers to smuggle people from even more dangerous sea routes. Angela Merkel herself seems worried about the logistics of implementing the deal. There is a moral imperative to treat these people with dignity and regrettably this deal does not seem to ensure that. However, given the political gridlock witnessed in the preceding months that raised fears that Europe will turn into a continent of massive walls and fences, the fact that some methodology is being finally adapted raises hopes that the crisis can be managed. But unless sincere efforts are made to tackle the root cause of this crisis and peace is restored to Syria, any solution will be strictly temporary.

Earth Hour

Significant landmarks vanished from the skylines across Pakistan between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm on March 19, 2016, as their lights were switched off to observe Earth Hour. Every year, the environmental protection agency, World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, calls out to people all across the world to participate in the grassroots Earth Hour campaign in order to raise awareness about the ecological hazards plaguing Earth. According to Hammad Naqi Khan, WWF-Pakistan Director, Pakistan is one of the ten countries most affected by the current climate change. Three Pakistani cities — Karachi, Peshawar and Rawalpindi — were slated in the list of world’s most polluted cities last year, according to the statistics published by World Health Organization. In times like these, initiatives like Earth Hour should be celebrated momentously. Every small step contributes in walking the mile towards environmental preservation. However this hour-long commitment can only be useful if the issue of environmental protection is treated with the same vigour all year long. Earth Hour should be treated as a rallying call for activist all across the country to help reduce, if not eliminate, greenhouse gas emissions that drastically impact our environment.

However, many Pakistanis view the execution of such projects with a lot of cynicism. Given the lack of adequate power generation, with frequent load shedding in blocks of one hour or more, many are bemused by the concept of Earth Hour. Sarcastic comments are made regarding the futility of this endeavour in Pakistan. It is important therefore to separate the content of Earth Hour, a mere symbol adapted globally, from its message, which is critically important. Such green initiatives are badly needed by our power-starved economy, which greatly relies on non-renewable resources such as coal to generate electricity. Even our renewable hydel power suffers significantly from environmental degradation and adverse climate changes brought about by global warming. However, the present government cannot be blamed for indolence policy-making, especially with regard to power conservation. Last year, a plan was introduced to preserve electricity by closing down shops, marriage halls and restaurants at 8 p.m., 10 p.m., and 11 p.m. respectively, both in Islamabad and across Punjab. Nevertheless, this government strategy was rejected by not only opposition but also the business community in the country. If the political parties in the country join hands in creating policy initiatives that promote power preservation, the public can greatly benefit from a reduction in power losses as well as from a greener environment.

Earth Hour is a constant reminder to people worldwide to attempt to make a difference towards our finances as well as our planet. If the people in power unite with the global civil society in their fight against the carbon footprint of our generation, a sustainable environment can be created for, not just ourselves but also, for the generations to come.

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