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Daily Times Editorials – 22 June 2015

Hate Narrative

A 21 year-old white man, Dylann Roof, has been arrested for shooting nine blacks in South Carolina, the US. A Church Pastor and a Senior Senator were amongst the dead. These point blank killings took place in the sanctuary of the Charleston Church. For today’s US, which has struggled over decades to overcome racism and even elected a black President Barack Obama, an incident like this comes as a sobering reminder of the road yet to be travelled. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley criticied it, telling NBC on Friday: “We will absolutely want him to have the death penalty.” The First Lady, Michelle Obama, was seen on CNN expressing her grave disappointment and calling the tragedy horrifying. This latest incident of violent hate crime against black people has brought people from all walks of life and religions protesting on the streets against such an atrocity. They are seen chanting prayers for the unfortunate deceased and holding candles for peace, emphasising the solidarity of humanity on issues pertaining to racism. The Mayor of the city has described it as “pure concentrated evil”. He has summoned the people of Charleston to gather together for prayers.

President Barack Obama, showing his grief said: “We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” The US seriously needs to review its gun laws, an issue that has been hanging fire for years, any attempt to reform the regime of easy access to deadly weapons being stonewalled by the powerful gun lobby. “Any death of this sort is a tragedy; any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy,” President Obama emphasized at the White House. “There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.” This massacre has once again reminded the people of the world that even in today’s twenty-first century, there are people, specifically a young student in this particular unpleasant event, who believe in and are expressing hatred against the blacks, reflecting how deep racism still runs in American society. Roof in a photograph was seen with patches on his shoulders showing the slogans of the old white apartheid regimes of southern Africa. He has been charged in the past with drug use and trespassing. The drug charge is pending while he has been found guilty on the other charge. Today he stands before the court as a murderer of nine innocent victims. He has admitted that he wanted to “start a race war”. After the spate of killings of blacks by police all over the US in recent days, this racist hate monger shows us the lingering darkness at the heart of US society.

Improving Relations

The Indian authorities on Friday released 88 Pakistani fishermen that had been arrested for crossing the maritime border with India after Pakistan released 113 Indian fishermen earlier. This exchange was suggested by the Indian Prime Minister to his Pakistani counterpart in a phone call as a gesture of goodwill prior to the month of Ramzan. Modi said that the fishermen should be allowed to spend the holy month with their families and called the leaders of Bangladesh and Afghanistan with good wishes for Ramzan as well. Both the phone call and the exchange of the detained fishermen are welcome gestures after relations between India and Pakistan have been tense and harsh words have been exchanged by political leaders and the media of both countries. After the exchange however, Pakistani officials were irate that 97 of the Pakistani fishermen held in India had not been released as promised. There are still several fishermen detained in both countries for unknowingly crossing the maritime boundary while fishing in the Arabian Sea. There are no buoys in the sea or the ocean to demarcate the marine boundary however, and poor fishermen often stumble onto the wrong side of the invisible line, only to be incarcerated for years until diplomacy allows an exchange. This long-standing practice is unjust and these fishermen should not be considered spies or wilful trespassers by either country. The governments of India and Pakistan should do away with the policy of arresting these fishermen and then using them as political bargaining chips, if they cannot take steps to demarcate the marine boundary.

Despite this ostensible thaw in increasingly tense relations, such improvements are so fragile that the slightest hint of provocation from either side sours them. A curfew has been imposed in Srinagar in advance of Ramzan and a protest march by the Hurriyet Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. The waving of the Pakistani flag by these parties has irked the Indian government and recent protests have been quashed by the Indian security forces, killing civilians in the process. The continuing dispute between the two countries over Kashmir shows that sustainable peace between India and Pakistan cannot be achieved unless a conclusive resolution to the Kashmir issue is reached. After a history of fluctuating relations and the inability of the two countries to sustain peaceful ties, it is clear that the leaders of both states can no longer avoid opening talks to reach a lasting solution. Kashmir has been the major bone of contention between the neighbours since the partition of the subcontinent and the wars the two have fought in the past have primarily been because of the disputed territory. Reaching an agreement over this issue, in tandem with the Kashmiris, would be the first step to rehabilitating Pakistan-India relations.

Poor Governance

The government’s claims of no load shedding at Sehr, Iftaar and Taraveeh prayers on the eve of Ramzan have fallen spectacularly flat on their face. Despite the government’s announcement that industry would have to forego electricity at these times, the citizens are being tormented by 18 hours of load shedding all over the country. Violent protests against this torture in the middle of the heatwave that is sweeping the country are spreading. Such manifestations have broken out in Peshawar, Karachi, Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sahiwal, Multan and other cities. The geographical spread of these protests belies the conspiracy theory being peddled by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is being singled out to make the PTI provincial government look bad. If this theory is correct, then all the provincial governments, including the PML-N’s own in Punjab, are suffering the same fate! The government stands indicted not only for the failure to fulfil the promise of no load shedding during critical timings for Ramzan, but also for the duration of power cuts, far from decreasing, have actually increased. No power also affects water supply, the absence of which in this sweltering heat is beyond the capacity of citizens to bear. The citizens’ anger at the authorities has found expression in attacks on electricity distribution companies’ offices, with in some instances such offices being ransacked and then burnt to a cinder. The power distribution workers in such offices have escaped the wrath of the protestors by a whisker, but some serious fallout in the shape of injuries and casualties amongst such staff could occur unless the problem is dealt with post haste.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, showing his concern over the situation and citizens’ suffering, summoned the Water and Power Secretary Younas Dagha to the Prime Minister’s House on Saturday to be briefed on the crisis. Dagha, in true ‘Yes Prime Minister’ mode, laid the blamefor the situation on increased demand because of the heat and Ramzan. If so, we’re these two factors not known before hand? Dagha told the prime minister that demand currently had risen to 21,000 MW, against supply of 15,500 MW, leaving a shortfall of 5,500 MW. Despite this, Dagha claimed, 75-80 percent of the country was provided uninterrupted electricity on the first day of Ramzan. This is a patently absurd statement, given that no part of the country was receiving ‘uninterrupted’ electricity even before Ramzan and the heatwave. Not for nothing then did the prime minister reprimand the secretary for this obviously untrue report” expressing his displeasure at the situation, the prime minister instructed the secretary to address citizens’ complaints at the earliest. Dagha’s absurdity was only bettered by Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif’s tall tale that 93 percent urban and 86 percent rural areas are being supplied uninterrupted electricity. When by his ministry’s own admission there is a shortfall of 5,500 MW, how can this even claimed, let alone believed? The best litmus test of these attempts to throw dust in the eyes of a suffering public is the empirical evidence on the ground itself. People, having lost patience with the authorities’ dissembling are expressing themselves with unprecedented anger at their perceived tormentors. Not only are electricity distribution companies’ offices being trashed and burnt, there are reports of desperate people breaking water mains in Karachi to get some relief from the heat and even drinking water, an escalation of the ongoing water crisis in the city. Khwaja Asif has also resurrected the bogey of the 650 MW being supplied to Karachi despite the agreement to do so having expired. On the one hand the minister wants to claim the credit for this act of humanitarian kindness towards the denizens of Karachi, and on the other shift the blame for load shedding in the metropolis onto the shoulders of K-Electric, which by the way has broken all records of exaggeration by claiming there is no load shedding in Karachi! Either these top officials take the people of Pakistan as dumb driven cattle who can be fed any potpourri of fabrications if not outright lies, or they are seriously delusional. One can only sympathise with the prime minister for being so poorly served by such ministers, bureaucrats and officials.

Daily Times Editorials – 22 June 2015

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