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DAWN Editorials – 4th February 2016

PIA crisis needs cooler minds

It is unbecoming of a leader of a democracy to talk in a way that is insensitive. Despite the tragedy that befell the protesting PIA employees, when two of their colleagues were killed on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif adopted a hostile approach towards the union protesters.

In close proximity were some of his ministers who echoed his tone and practically equated PIA union protesters with ‘enemies of the state’ and warned that they may lose their jobs. All this at a time when workers were insecure about employment and on a day when they were absorbing the shock of the law-enforcement action against them and the death of their comrades.

Whatever one’s own opinion of the unions, the protesters and the health of the airline may be, allowing peaceful demonstrators to be killed or injured is a grave tragedy and should be acknowledged as such by the leadership.

For their part, the protesters also need to realise that many people are getting weary of their tactics. They have proven their point by grounding the airline and should now work towards winding down their protests.

Disrupting the lives of the people for too long may not win them the sympathy they see as crucial to their cause. They need to realise that the status quo has become untenable in PIA and a large effort is needed to rescue the national carrier before it collapses altogether, or becomes an even bigger burden on the taxpaying public than it already is.

One of the demands that has been put forward by the union’s joint action committee is that “PIA’s employees be provided a chance to reform the airline”. How are we expected to take this demand seriously? Do they have any plan or vision that goes beyond bravado or sloganeering to undertake such a massive task? What do they propose be done about the accumulated losses which have climbed to Rs300bn?

Cooler heads need to step in to save the situation from deteriorating further.

The opposition parties should not see in this episode an opportunity to make political hay. The PTI thought it could ride the anger of the traders against a withholding tax and ended up looking foolish when the traders cut a deal with the government and wound down their protests. That mistake ought to be avoided.

The need of the hour is for all political forces to urge calm and restraint, stop taking extreme positions, and work towards getting PIA back in the air once again rather than fan the flames of anger. As a first step, the government should refrain from applying the Essential Services Act to PIA.

Instead, the focus should be on how to put the airline back on track. But that will not happen so long as bluster and bravado are calling all shots.

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Indo-Pak visa regime

WHILE there are differing accounts of why exactly Bollywood actor Anupam Kher was not issued a Pakistani visa, one thing is clear: the episode is reflective of the byzantine and thoroughly nebulous visa regime that exists between India and Pakistan.

The actor, who was supposed to attend the Karachi Literature Festival, which kicks off tomorrow, says he was denied a visa as Pakistan’s interior ministry did not issue a no-objection certificate.

However, Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi says Mr Kher never submitted a visa application, while a KLF organiser claims they were told “not to apply” for the Indian actor’s visa. Of course, many high-profile individuals from both countries have been denied visas or censured for using undesignated ports of entry.

If this is the state of affairs public figures face, it can be well imagined what the common Indian or Pakistani has to go through when applying to visit the ‘other side’. The fact is that miles of red tape have been put up by both bureaucracies to consciously discourage people from putting in a visa application.

A 2012 agreement governs the visa regime between India and Pakistan. But despite its promises, this arrangement is anything but liberal. For example, applicants have to attach reams of paperwork, duly attested of course, establishing their identities, proof of residence etc along with the visa application.

Furthermore, India requires Pakistanis applying for a visitors’ visa to submit a ‘sponsorship certificate’, in which their Indian host promises to vouch for their ‘good conduct’ while in India. Also, for the vast majority of visitors with police reporting visas, the exercise can be a nightmare, with people often shaken down for bribes over minor technical issues.

Visa processing, which is supposed to take a little over a month, can take much longer, throwing travel plans off kilter. If there is to be peace in the subcontinent fostered by people-to-people contacts, and if the dream of a connected South Asia is ever to be realised, these mediaeval rules need to be changed and the visa regime must be truly liberalised. Presently, divided families as well as ordinary people who desire to visit the other country are suffering, much to the delight of hard-line lobbies on both sides.

Whenever dialogue is resumed between Islamabad and New Delhi — and we hope this occurs soon — a more humane visa regime should be on top of the agenda.

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Intizar Husain

FOR someone who had something to say on so many things for so long Intizar Husain has taken his leave too suddenly.

An agile man for his 90-plus years, this giant of Urdu literature passed away on Tuesday, leaving his fans and the literati the impossible task of deciding a definite place for him in the literary world. That exercise will continue for a long time to come.

He was incomparable and is more likely to inspire writers, with few committing themselves to emulating his style. One of a kind, he will always rub shoulders with the best that we have been blessed with. And some of his contemporaries in this company — especially a host of those belonging to the old progressive bloc — he could take face-on.

Like many, Intizar sahib was influenced by the friction he created by the clash of one ‘brand’ or ‘type’ of literature against the other. He loved debate and was not averse to allowing himself an emotional outburst or two.

It is remarkable how his own journey that had begun under the watch of Hasan Askari, who wasn’t exactly enamoured of the progressives, was marked by crossovers which Intizar sahib never ventured to fully explain — such as his stint with the very obviously progressive Imroze newspaper. He spent much more time responding to what was labelled as obsessive nostalgia in his writings.

Then again, this was perhaps one area where the conservative Intizar Husain may have been ahead of many of those around him, including some who would be offended by his urge to preserve the past.

The dominant thinking of the time aside, his ideas turned out to be worth pursuing, given Intizar sahib’s command over the craft of storytelling and the insatiable appetite which made him produce quality literature decade after decade. This was work ultimately defined by one individual’s desire to stand out. It provided other individuals and the groups they formed so much to read and to read into. Thank you, sir.

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