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DAWN Editorials – 20th March 2016

Kurdish ‘federal region’

EVEN though all sides to the Syrian conflict have condemned it, the declaration of a ‘federal region’ by Kurdish fighters is a move fraught with dangerous consequences for the entire region. The Kurdish fighters have been in control of a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border, and this has served to strengthen Ankara’s certitude in its policy, for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government sees the multilateral Syrian conflict only through its Kurdish prism. Syrian Kurds have been living in that country for ages and had no separatist ambitions. The degeneration of the Arab Spring into a debilitating civil war and the entry of non-Syrian militants into the country provided an opportunity for battle-hardened Kurds from outside Syria — as those from Iraq and south-eastern Turkey — to enter the conflict and make their presence felt. Their morale went up when they liberated Kobane from the militant Islamic State group and made Ankara uncomfortable.

The ‘declaration’ comes at a time when the negotiators at Geneva are having a tough time, and even though a peace formula is yet to be worked out, the ceasefire is by and large holding. At such a time, a unilateral declaration by the Kurdish group, which claims that Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians in northern Syria are part of it, will only complicate matters and pose a threat to Syria’s territorial integrity. With Kurdistan in Iraq already having autonomous status, a Kurdish ‘federal region’ in Syria will serve to strengthen separatist tendencies among Kurds in Iran and Turkey and make Ankara’s handling of the insurgency in its east much more difficult. The recent bomb blast in the Turkish capital has made Turkey step up its bombing of Kurdish targets, thus reducing the chances of a peaceful solution to the 40-year-old insurgency. The condemnation of the ‘federal region’ move by the government and Syrian opposition is not enough; what all sides should realise is that only an overall peace settlement acceptable to all sides will pre-empt the creation of such a region.

Rain-related deaths

A TRAGEDY that could have been prevented is a tragedy compounded. What else can be said of the lives lost in various towns and villages of Azad Kashmir as the weekend drew near? Several parts in the north have been experiencing torrential rain in recent days — a spell that had been forecast by the Meteorological Department. And, as unfortunately happens every year, the heavy downpour triggered landslides and rockfalls in the mountains of AJK and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as the collapse of homes. The pain of those who have lost loved ones does not bear thinking of, particularly given that most of the communities in the area find it hard to make ends meet and have little state support even in times of difficulty. Considering that this is a cycle of rain-related disaster that manifests itself every year, in one part of the country or another, it would be logical to expect the state to put out warnings during the period when rain is expected, with teams helping shore up houses, clearing drainage channels and so on. But again and again, it is the lack of preparedness and the authorities’ incapacity in the context of disaster management that is exposed.

Where Pakistan is doing very little to mitigate the effects of natural disaster, it is also ignoring and failing to regulate activities that are bound to worsen the impact of it. Take, for example, the unregulated construction of homes and substandard building materials that are in common use in towns and villages across the country. There is little effort on the part of the government to either make people aware of the dangers, or to spread awareness about which materials are better suited where, or even to have a role in creating housing for the poor, particularly in the rural areas. Then, there is the issue of illegal tree felling. While Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is working on its ambitious and admirable Billion Tree Tsunami project, in its backyard of the Galiyat, the timber mafia operates with impunity. It has been known for a long time that generally in Pakistan, deforestation is occurring at an alarming pace. In both these examples, the government — whether federal or provincial — has a role to play in reducing the level of death and destruction. Unfortunately, it seems to prefer inaction. As the Met department forecasts further rains, sadly enough we may see more tragedy.

Transparency in national matters

THE meetings are preceded by photo-ops and followed by press releases. The optics suggest a congenial atmosphere. The public statements emphasise the ground that was covered and endlessly reiterate vows to make Pakistan safe and secure again. And yet, very little is in fact known about what transpires in meetings between the political and military leaderships of the country. Friday produced yet another example of a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office at which military and security matters were discussed, but nothing shared about the specifics of decisions taken. Instead, there were the usual platitudes about satisfaction with the progress of military operations in Fata and rooting out terrorism from the country. Clearly, not every meeting must result in new and far-reaching decisions taken. Frequent and sustained consultation between the political and military leaderships also augurs well for national stability. But when decisions are taken, the country needs to be informed about what they are — allowing for necessary discretion when sharing operational information, for example.

Consider the cryptic description of ‘issues related to the military’ that were discussed on Friday. Were they service matters that required the executive’s authority? Or were they, as has been speculated recently, connected to weapons purchases that the military is considering? On the issue of military purchases, there is an additional reason for more information and some semblance of transparency: new military hardware tends to be prohibitively expensive and can involve significant national budgetary outlay. Given the stress and strains on military hardware in recent years with large-scale operations in Fata, maintenance, replenishment and upgradations are inevitable and should be seriously attended to. Pakistan’s soldiers need and deserve the best possible equipment within the reach of national resources. Yet, there will inevitably be trade-offs: the acquisition of which hardware is prioritised and why should be known to the country. The experience across the world suggests that when such decisions are made in secrecy, controversy and scandal inevitably follow. The military needs to be more forthcoming with the country about what it considers to be necessary and why when it comes to defence hardware needs.

The PML-N government, however, is also to blame for the present opaque state of affairs. The prime minister himself appears to have no interest in his parliamentary responsibilities, which includes informing the country’s elected representatives of key decisions being made by the government. Rare is the parliamentary session in which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in attendance and that lack of interest appears to have infected his cabinet colleagues. The interior minister is an advocate of greater parliamentary scrutiny, but does little when it comes to the practice of sharing meaningful information with elected representatives. The slew of NAP-related numbers frequently spouted has not enhanced anyone’s understanding of state policies and the actions being taken. Surely, a little more transparency is both needed and wanted.

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