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DAWN Editorials – 16th May 2016

Strained ties with the US

A COMPLICATED, but vital relationship — an assessment offered by the US State Department spokesperson — is an apt description of the state of Pak-US relations.

But the latest stresses in the bilateral relationship have not come as a surprise. For a couple of years now, as the US military engagement in Afghanistan has diminished markedly, the possibility of a changed relationship between Pakistan and the US has been clear.

And yet, while efforts such as the strategic dialogue have continued, there have been signs of mutual fatigue — the stresses and demands of a post-9/11 security-based relationship appear to have taken their toll in the form of a lack of any direction of overarching vision on both sides today.

Where once there were initiatives such as the Kerry-Lugar civilian-focused aid and attempts to spur regional trade and productivity, now there is little more than haggling over bills and military hardware.

Inside Pakistan, the civil-military dynamic has clearly affected the trajectory of the Pak-US relationship and pushed it in the direction of being wholly security-based.

But part of the blame must surely lie with the civilians and the present PML-N government in particular.

So invested is the government in the Chinese relationship and the possibilities that CPEC offers that it appears to have become oblivious to all other foreign relationships, barring perhaps the occasional ill-planned attempt to begin a process of normalisation with India.

Consider that when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went on an official visit to the US last year, the highlight of the trip was an announcement of a small-scale effort to boost female literacy in Pakistan.

Trade was nowhere on the agenda and little effort was made to engage the US Congress, thereby contributing to a drift that has allowed elements hostile to Pakistan in Congress to shape the emerging narrative on Pakistan.

Even now, with the F-16 issue cropping up, there has been no attempt by the government to conduct emergency diplomacy.

Distracted by the Panama Papers controversy and seemingly having ceded control over policy on the US to the military, the government – still without a foreign minister – has been reduced to articulating sad-sounding admissions of struggles in the bilateral relationship.

The country needs a full-time foreign minister, it needs a government that recognises the importance of maintaining ties with the US, and it needs a political leadership that can engage the military on national security and foreign policy matters.

Unhappily, none of that appears to be likely anytime soon. The F-16 debacle is only a sign of things to come if some urgent thinking is not done here on the relationship with the US.

An improved police

A MILITARISED law enforcement — such as that we have been witnessing in Karachi for nearly three years — may improve the situation in the short term, but it is not conducive to a sustainable peace.

Fortunately, the apex committee in its meeting in Karachi on Thursday is developing a new strategy which aims to enhance the strength and capabilities of the city’s police force.

Additional personnel numbering 20,000 are to be inducted — 8,000 of them for Karachi alone — who will undergo training by the army.

It was also decided to make efforts to procure modern techniques of investigation and forensic analysis to further augment the force’s capacity.

Statistics that emerged from the apex committee meeting show that targeted killings, kidnappings for ransom and extortion have come down by 80pc since the Rangers-led operation began in September 2013.

To cement those gains, however, requires a rethink of how the police should function in Karachi.

Cronyism and politicisation of the force since years has degraded the quality of personnel: a policeman beholden to his benefactors has interests other than fighting crime.

In an environment where even recruitment at constable level can be contingent upon the ‘right price’, a thorough cleaning out of the stables is required.

To some extent, this has been set in motion, with the Supreme Court having ordered NAB to investigate the former Sindh police chief’s recent admission that 5,000 of 12,000 appointments in the force were illegal. It is also necessary now for the Rangers to retreat and let the police take the lead.

It is for good reason that in any well-ordered society, the police are considered the first line of defence where citizens’ rights to life and property are concerned.

Unlike the Sindh Rangers, which is a federal force whose officers are from the army and therefore susceptible to a certain lack of ‘local’ sensitivity, police cadres are drawn from the communities themselves.

They have their finger on the pulse of their neighbourhoods where they are posted, and are invested in the latter’s well-being.

Here it is also pertinent to question — notwithstanding that a militarised approach to justice and law enforcement is increasingly being perceived as the gold standard — whether the army trainers will have the capacity to train policemen in investigation and policing.

This city deserves a police force recruited through proper procedures and given the right tools and training to meet the rigorous demands of its job.

Thalassaemia concerns

THE issue of thalassaemia, it appears, has calcified into yet another grave public health concern that has failed to elicit the required attention from governmental quarters.

Of the three types of thalassaemia, it is thalassaemia minor that is perhaps the most dangerous for societal health: those carrying the gene often remain unaware of it, but the offspring of two carriers have an abnormally high chance of being born with thalassaemia major.

According to the Punjab Thalassaemia Prevention Programme director, some 60,000 thalassaemia major patients are enrolled in Pakistan.

About 7,000 new patients of this most serious variety of the disease surface every year; and some 14 to 17 children with thalassaemia major are born every day.

Yet the response is lackadaisical. A day before World Thalassaemia Day recently, the national coordinator for the Safe Blood Transfusion Programme told the media that a draft for a policy is still being prepared.

Sindh, on its part, has taken the somewhat bizarre step of requesting the National Database and Registration Authority to not issue marriage certificates to those whose thalassaemia report is not submitted.

We call the move bizarre because it overlooks the fact that in Pakistan, a nikah can be solemnised without state involvement, and only subsequently do couples apply for a formal marriage certificate from Nadra.

In other words, such a rule would create paperwork hassles for couples that are already married.

A much simpler method of combating thalassaemia would be to make the test, which is inexpensive, widely available across the country at the taluka level and then initiate a large-scale public awareness campaign that impresses upon people and clerics the need for pre-nuptial testing before the marriage itself.

For many, a child with thalassaemia major is an unthought-of eventuality that had not been factored in while the match was being made, but must thereafter be endured. Key to combating the figures is to facilitate people in making informed choices.

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