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Express Tribune Editorials – 12th February 2016

LNG deal with Qatar

The $16 billion dollar LNG deal signed between Pakistan and Qatar on February 10 is being hailed by analysts and industry representatives as a step in the right direction and perhaps rightly so. Most quarters have pointed towards the benefit of importing the fuel to bridge the widening demand-supply gap in the country, moving a step closer to addressing the power crisis. The deal will see Qatar export the fuel to Pakistan for 16 years to meet our domestic energy requirements. According to the agreement, LNG will be transported to Punjab where power plants are being set up. The aim is to generate more electricity and also to convert the fuel to provide it to CNG-based stations. On paper, everything seems to be working for the PML-N. Pakistan will buy LNG from Qatar at 13.37 per cent of Brent crude price, which amounts to $4.68 per million British thermal units when oil is sold at $35 a barrel. This also includes port charges of $320,000 a vessel. This is a much better deal than what was originally planned and government officials have not stopped talking about how they have saved millions.

But there are other issues that need to be sorted out. Sindh has expressed its displeasure at the LNG-based power plants being set up in Punjab and this is where it could all get ugly. We have already seen smaller provinces resenting projects that are based in the PML-N’s stronghold of Punjab, as they point towards the lack of development taking place elsewhere. With LNG being imported to meet domestic requirements, Sindh wants a piece of the action as well and the federal government should address its concerns. The fact is that LNG is cheap and could greatly improve the country’s energy mix, where a piling circular debt has had to be parked in a holding company to reduce the burden on the budget. For now, the PML-N will celebrate the deal and use it to garner more votes come the next election. However, it must not ignore that the use of imported LNG needs to go beyond Punjab. The concerns of the smaller provinces must be heeded.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2016.

Justifying domestic violence

Anew study has revealed that over half of the teenage female population in Pakistan and India has twisted and misinformed notions about domestic violence. The report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), “Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young People in Asia and the Pacific”, found that 53 per cent of teenage girls in both countries believe that domestic violence is justified. A high percentage of adolescent boys believe the same according to data collected from India and other developing countries. It is indeed a tragedy that the youth in our country and in the wider region is growing up with such medieval beliefs.

Regressive attitudes regarding gender roles have seeped so deeply into culture and society that often victims and potential victims of domestic violence or violence against women in general believe that there is nothing wrong with such abhorrent behaviour. There is a tendency to blame victims of violence for their own plight, with the perpetrator all but absolved of responsibility. Our patriarchal societal structure, widespread gender inequality, twisted notions of honour, a weak legal framework and a general increase in violence in society have all contributed to domestic violence being considered an acceptable part of life. It is as if our society is suffering from the psychological phenomenon of the Stockholm Syndrome, wherein victims develop feelings of sympathy towards their captors or offenders. This mindset is setting young women up for lifelong violence. Their children will be exposed to the same violence and be susceptible to the same beliefs later on.

One way to alter this mindset is by addressing our woeful education standards as this was positively associated with such beliefs in the UNPF report. Unemployment and a history of family violence were also positively associated, both of which can be found in abundance in Pakistan. Sex education can go a long way in educating young women about their bodies and rights. The responsibility to change medieval notions falls on society at large, and educators, the government and the media all need to play a role here.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2016.

Plain words at last

It has taken the Director General of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Aftab Sultan, to finally give the nation’s politicians a salutary reality check regarding the presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Pakistan. This newspaper, along with a range of other media outlets and platforms, has been sending out alarm signals for over a year. There are well-sourced and researched reports on IS penetration in the country. Time and again, those reports have been rubbished by senior politicians, some of them fond of making ludicrous statements to the effect that “not even the shadow” of the IS would be tolerated on the soil of Pakistan. The Senate Standing Committee on Interior was informed on February 10 by Mr Sultan that the IS was emerging as a threat within the country, and that it had linkages with the banned groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba to name but two, though there are others. He said that these organisations had “a soft corner” for the IS and its ideology. The IB has broken up an IS network in Punjab — no surprise given the presence of extremist groups leading untroubled lives there — and Mr Sultan pointed out, as have innumerable analysts and knowledgeable observers, that terrorist groups are “reorganising”. Indeed they are.

This briefing for the Senate Standing Committee should finally and conclusively draw a line under the serial denials of reality by politicians whose motives for doing so in the light of this information appear at least suspect. Foot-dragging and denial have created a space into which the IS has flowed, doubtless grateful at the opportunity it has been provided. It has proceeded to do what it does best — exploit local weaknesses in terms of countervailing activity and connect to the plug-and-play mass of unfocused but latent extremism across the country and pressed the ‘send’ button. Its message has been received and understood from Khyber to Karachi and all points between. Interestingly, Mr Sultan squashed another popular myth, namely that it was “foreign hands” behind the majority of terrorist attacks. Not so said Mr Sultan, the majority are home grown and emanate from the tribal areas. Whether our tin-eared Interior Ministry heard any of this, never mind understood it, remains an open question.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2016.

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