Attack on polio security team
ATTACKS on anti-polio vaccinators and the security teams that now routinely accompany them are desperately wicked crimes.
Violent and immoral, such attacks leave no part of state or society unaffected: directly, through the casualties inflicted on anti-polio vaccine teams and security personnel and, indirectly, through jeopardising the health of the next generation, especially in neighbourhoods which are already chronically under-resourced and face significant health challenges.
What needs to be done — not just in Karachi, but elsewhere in the country too where there is still some resistance to vaccines — is to revisit standard operating procedure to reduce the risk of casualties when attacks do occur as well as dedicate more resources to intelligence-gathering on polio-specific threats.
From the repetitive nature of such attacks and the early evidence often pointing to a predictable set of security lapses and a familiar group of suspects, it appears that the war on polio can be waged with more precision and better security.
Yet, the sheer deadliness of the attack on Wednesday, the number of militants involved and the city in which it occurred raise a specific set of questions too.
Consider that the army has, via the Rangers, been leading a crackdown on militancy and crime in Karachi since September 2013.
The sheer scale of the security threats in Karachi and the vastness of the provincial metropolis ensured that quick solutions would not materialise.
But if action was necessary and inevitable, so was remaining focused on the original cause — combating terrorism and organised crime in the city.
Instead, the Karachi operation has long drifted into other domains ie alleged political crimes and corruption.
As with all security decisions, there is an inherent trade-off involved: combating one problem leaves fewer resources to fight another. And as with all security decisions, a balance must be maintained.
Surely, if a group of militants — eight in number, according to reports — can attack and kill seven on-duty policemen in broad daylight in two different spots and then simply melt away, the threat from militancy is not receiving the kind of sustained attention it needs to be given in Karachi.
Are the Rangers and the military-led intelligence agencies operating in the provincial capital too stretched for the good of the city they are trying to stabilise and secure?
Of course, the problem is compounded on the civilian side.
The deployment of under-training policemen on guard duties during anti-polio vaccination drives only underscores the desperate lack of investment in the Sindh police.
The PPP, which has been in power in the province since 2008, seems utterly indifferent to even basic responsibilities, be it on the security side or governance.
With the PPP more interested in sparring with the military over the Karachi operation and the military seemingly unable to work with the civilians, the danger is that the space for militancy in Karachi may be expanding once again.
THE chilly reception given to President Obama on his arrival in Riyadh is a sign of the growing rift between the US and Saudi Arabia.
The governor of Riyadh received the president while state television showed footage of the king receiving other leaders from GCC countries on the tarmac of the airport at the same time.
At issue is a bill making its way through Congress that would allow American citizens to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for losses suffered during 9/11, and growing pressure on the Obama administration to authorise the release of 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report that have never been made public, purportedly because they contain details of possible links between the hijackers and the Saudi regime.
More dramatically, the kingdom has warned that if the bill is passed, it will consider withdrawing its investments in the United States, said to total $750 billion, with more funds parked in US treasury bills.
Global financial markets have shrugged off that threat so far, which could send a shockwave through the global economy, if carried out by the Saudis.
But the weak position of the Saudi regime’s fiscal health means it will suffer at least as much as the US economy — that fact considerably dilutes the probability of the threat being carried out.
Likewise the legislation under consideration in the US Congress that would allow US citizens to sue the Saudi regime for the 9/11 attacks is audacious, to say the least, and could open a Pandora’s box if reciprocated by other countries.
The only reasonable step in this whole affair would be the one that calls for releasing the 28 classified pages of the 9/11 commission report. If it is true that these pages contain information that may implicate the Saudi government in the attacks, then this needs to be known by the rest of the world, which has suffered the consequences of 9/11 as well.
If not true, the matter needs to be laid to rest. The growing tensions between the two countries are unlikely to go away soon, especially since they are driven in large part by Saudi fears of a growing thaw in ties between Iran and America.
For Pakistan it would be a good idea to not wade too deep into the belligerence engulfing the Middle East, and to stay out of the rivalry evident between important players in the region.
Neglect of heritage
DESPITE being blessed with countless historical sites spanning different ages and civilisations, Sindh and Balochistan, for a variety of reasons, have largely failed to preserve their priceless heritage.
In the case of Sindh, there are frequent reports about the neglect of heritage. For example, as reported in this paper on Thursday, a Unesco team was in Thatta’s Makli necropolis recently to survey a 15th-century tomb which had apparently been damaged when poorly qualified individuals tried to restore it.
If this were not enough, construction material had been dumped near the tomb. Makli has for long suffered from encroachments, while the condition of various other historical sites in Sindh is hardly any better.
For example, Chowkandi, in Karachi’s outskirts, has been targeted by tomb raiders, while fresh burials have also reportedly occurred in the historic graveyard.
Moreover, as recent accounts point out, numerous sights of historical and cultural importance on the outer rim of the metropolis have been bulldozed, along with villages, to make way for ‘development’.
As opposed to Sindh’s unimpressive record in preserving heritage, KP has done a relatively better job of preserving at least the major sites, though smuggling of Gandhara-era artefacts remains a problem.
Yet in KP, despite the authorities’ efforts, fears of militancy keep visitors away, with foreigners only showing up once in a blue moon.
Preservation of history has two major benefits: firstly, it shows that we value our heritage and are concerned about holding on to it.
On a more ‘worldly’ level, it can generate significant revenues for the state if both domestic and foreign tourists can be drawn to heritage sites.
While law and order is a genuine concern in Balochistan and KP, Sindh does not have a militancy problem.
Hence, if the Sindh administration had the vision and wherewithal to preserve the province’s rich heritage, instead of remaining in a perpetual state of apathy, local heritage sites spread across the province could attract tourists.