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Express Tribune Editorials – 19th December 2015

Let dialogue begin

Ruling out war is as good a way as any to start a peace process. The long-stalled search for the solution to the many and complex problems that bedevil the relationship between India and Pakistan is beginning to gather pace and heft. Speaking in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that war was no longer an option. What started in Bangkok and continued in Islamabad continues to gain substance, and there is now a commitment to “uninterrupted” dialogue between the two nations. As Ms Swaraj also said in the Lok Sabha, a single meeting is not about to bring a solution and many meetings lie ahead. Having got a basket of issues finally all on the same table, we now need to make sure they stay there — which may not be as easy in practice as it is to say.

There will be those for whom the prospect of dialogue will not be welcome and there are going to be attempts to derail the process, in all probability emanating from elements in both countries. The Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue may well go silent once the way-paving process is complete, and that in itself may take several months. Both sides need to ensure that ‘hotheads’ are denied the floor at this delicate stage, before the baby dialogue gets to the toddler stage. Silence must not be mistaken for inactivity in this context as both sides have already acknowledged that much of what is to follow is going to be conducted via the backchannels.

For the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, this is a pledge in part redeemed, and for that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a shift to a position less focused on electoral rhetoric and more on the mutual and regional benefits to be drawn from productive dialogue. The next step along the way is foreign secretary-level talks at a yet-to-be-determined date in January 2016. Assuming that to be successfully accomplished, then the entire process may be considered ‘on track’. A win-win is not beyond the grasp of both countries.

Health scheme in K-P

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government has unveiled a social health protection scheme that aims to lighten the burden of poor people who are unable to pay mountainous hospital bills. The five-year Rs1.39 billion programme, called Sehat Sahulat, was launched on December 15 by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak with the financial backing of the German government. The stated purpose of the initiative is to improve the health of the targeted population by increasing its access to quality health services. As it is a health insurance programme, the people benefiting from the initiative will not have to pay for medicines out of their own pockets. Under the scheme, the premium for a family would be Rs1,700 a year that will be paid to the insurance company by the K-P government, while each registered individual will get a coverage of up to Rs25,000 a year. Initially, only four districts — Mardan, Malakand, Chitral and Kohat — have been selected for the scheme, but the authorities intend to introduce it in other parts of K-P as well in a staggered fashion.

Although the initiative at this stage is on a modest scale, it signifies a step in the right direction. Given the crumbling state of our health infrastructure, even higher-income groups are sometimes left struggling to cope with their health needs. One can well imagine the agony of poorer households with a sick member to tend to, but little money to defray the treatment cost. Poverty is widespread in K-P where health schemes such as this one are urgently needed. It is heartening to note that the PTI government is trying to live up to its election promises to address people’s health and education needs. But the road is a long and arduous one. Given the enormity of the challenge in the health sector, K-P should be aiming to introduce programmes of a larger scale and outreach. This said, one must not begrudge the praise the initiative deserves. Other provincial governments will do well if they introduce similar schemes.

Kamal Ahmed Rizvi (1930-2015)

With the death of Kamal Ahmed Rizvi in a Karachi hospital after a protracted illness, an era has come to an end. A curtain has come down for the final time on a period during which some of the finest stage plays and sitcoms in the country’s history kept our theatre scene and PTV alive, and made television a lively medium that provided a forum where different ideas of import could be aired. Mr Rizvi, born in 1930, was best known as the creator of the long-running sitcom, Alif Noon, which featured him alongside Rafi Khawar, best known as Nannah. Between them, the two actors brought to the public’s attention different social ills and dilemmas plaguing society through comedy. The show engrossed tens of millions of viewers across the country with the series starting in 1965, and airing for the last time in the 1980s. Mr Rizvi’s character in the show will not be forgotten anytime soon by all those who watched Alif Noon. Since those times, there has rarely been an effort on television that has touched hearts through the important art of satire so effectively.

Mr Rizvi’s works go beyond Alif Noon. He was also a playwright, director, painter and writer. He was known for his sometimes sharp tongue, but also his devotion to the arts. In his final days, the young man who had moved to Karachi from Bihar at the time of Partition was deeply saddened by what he described as the sharp decline of the performing arts and of theatre, which he had in so many ways pioneered in the country. His death exposes the deep void in the Pakistani theatre and television industries as in recent years the country has produced hardly anyone of the stature of Mr Rizvi. His death then marks the end of an age, an age in which people knew how to laugh at themselves and could look at societal ills from a lighter angle, while at the same time think a little harder about correcting the wrongs prevalent in society.

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