INDIAN Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UAE, and the joint communiqué issued afterwards, should be nothing less than a wake-up call for Pakistan.
Both countries have agreed to enhance their economic cooperation and set specific targets, including bringing UAE investment into Indian infrastructure up to $75 billion and raising their bilateral trade by 60pc in five years.
The communiqué also goes to some lengths to “condemn efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries”, dilating upon this commitment with a specificity and sweep that almost betrays a sense of relish with which the words were written. The language is being widely interpreted to be pointed towards Pakistan.
Know more: Modi steps into Pakistan-UAE breach
By itself, the growing closeness between India and the UAE would be cause for little more than some alarm. But given the diplomatic moves under way in the region it highlights how the conduct of foreign policy is changing in profound ways.
India has already received overtures from Iran for expanding its economic beachhead at Chabahar port, giving access to Iran and Afghanistan as well. It has obtained American support for its Look East policy, building a Trilateral Highway through Myanmar to Thailand, as well as greater connectivity with ASEAN countries.
The main artery of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor is almost ready as an all-weather road, linking Yunnan province in China with West Bengal. In short, India is on the move in the region, keeping countries as diverse as the UAE, Iran, China and the United States on board as it spins a web of connectivity from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.
This should be enough to wake Pakistan’s foreign policy community up to the fact that their game has changed fundamentally. Lingering territorial disputes are no longer the driving force behind foreign policy. Instead, the foreign interests of states are now, more than ever before, viewed through an economic lens. States can be rivals in one sphere and partners in another.
The game is no longer about pushing a single-agenda item, but the meticulous placement of pieces on an increasingly complex and interconnected chessboard. For Pakistan, remaining wedded to an old foreign policy template developed in the early Cold War years — which saw friends and masters in its search for a big brother who would help solve problems in return for a geopolitical alliance — is no longer a viable option.
Maturity is the need of the hour in Pakistan’s foreign policy, as a thaw with Iran opens up opportunities to the west, and the possibility of building an economic partnership with India to the east — however remote it might seem at the moment — remains a viable foreign policy goal. It’s time to emerge from the old world, and recognise the changes happening in our region before it’s too late.
A PENSIONER’S lot in Pakistan can be pitiable because systems have often not evolved sufficiently to take the age-related limitations of this particular demographic into account.
Newspapers frequently report on the ordeal of infirm individuals having to suffer extended waiting periods at banks and, sometimes, humiliating treatment at the hands of bank staff while collecting paltry amounts at the beginning of each month.
Another dimension of the issue has now come to light that underscores the importance of putting in place streamlined disbursement methods not only for the pensioners but for the government itself.
Testifying before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, the National Bank president said the bank had discovered at least 600,000 ‘ghost’ pensioners who had for long been collecting pension amounts they were not entitled to receive, thus causing huge loss to the public exchequer.
Some NBP branches, he said, were dealing with up to 80,000 pensioners in the first few days of every month which resulted in further delays. Ostensibly, some heirs of deceased pensioners had chosen not to inform the bank of the latter’s demise and continued collecting on their behalf.
The fraud was uncovered during the bank’s computerisation of the pension system which will be completed by the end of the year and is based upon pensions being transferred directly into pensioners’ accounts that can be operated via ATM cards requiring biometric verification for transactions.
The possibility of deceit would thereby be largely eliminated. Equally important, so will the need for pensioners to queue up in person for hours to collect the pension, which — inhumane though it is in practice — is meant to safeguard against precisely such deception. That begs the question, how then could so many ghost pensioners go undetected for an extended period?
After all, although pensioners can depute someone to collect in their place, they can do so only for three months at a stretch.
Moreover, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg; there are certain to be many more ghost pensioners on other systems, such as Pakistan Post, from where pensions are disbursed. The authorities, rather than different institutions independently, should undertake efforts to address the shortcomings, thereby putting an end to such manipulation.
As it is, pensions account for a huge proportion of the government’s annual budget outlay, and while the amount undeservedly disbursed so far has yet to be determined, it is likely to be considerable.
PAKISTANIS love to eat out and though the experience may be enjoyable, the lack of proper hygiene where food preparation and handling is concerned at many eateries can result in food poisoning or worse.
In eateries across the country — from restaurants with full-fledged premises to humble push-carts — it is not uncommon to see flies buzzing over food, food being exposed to the elements and a general lack of cleanliness.
Take a look: PFA seals 10 more food outlets, eateries
Hence the recent raids targeting food outlets in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are welcome; in Lahore over the past few weeks the zealous Punjab Food Authority has either sealed or fined a number of food joints due to hygiene and cleanliness concerns.
Similarly in Peshawar, eateries and stores selling substandard fare have been penalised by the district administration.
In both cases action seems to be across the board, as restaurants in five-star hotels as well as establishments much lower down the food chain have been inspected and either sealed or fined. While earlier on it was thought that the Punjab authorities would buckle under the pressure of restaurant owners, the campaign has continued without much sustained protest from the business community.
These efforts at protecting the public from substandard and unhealthy food and drink must be applauded while the campaign should continue and be replicated in Sindh and Balochistan.
Indeed, the food and beverage industry provides livelihood to many; if only basic hygiene standards were observed the health and well-being of countless Pakistanis could be protected.
Food- and waterborne diseases are no joke: some medical experts estimate that every month, hundreds of Pakistanis end up in hospital due to gastroenteritis or food poisoning. Even if the existing food safety laws are fully implemented and restaurant owners and smaller-scale food merchants are sensitised about the importance of good hygiene, it would result in safer food being sold to consumers.
Eating out is indeed joyful; it would be even more enjoyable if diners were reassured their meal was prepared in a hygienic, sanitised environment.