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Express Tribune Editorials – 22nd April 2016

Poisoned mindsets

There is something particularly odious about the killing of the seven police officials who were murdered in two separate attacks in Orangi Town, Karachi, on April 20. Three of those who died were escorting a polio vaccination team; the other four were in a police mobile when they were gunned down. No vaccinators appear to have been killed in this instance and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan quickly claimed responsibility. These two attacks would have required intelligence gathering — where the teams were to be working — and setting up the logistics, weapons and motorbikes used in the attack as well as escape routes and safe houses for the killers. Such incidents are not random events, they are the product of days and perhaps weeks of work by those who set them up.

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It is difficult to discern what motivates the perpetrators as the original conspiracy theories that underpinned the attacks have become diffuse and diluted over time. Do the attackers truly believe that polio vaccination is part of some global conspiracy by Americans and Zionists to somehow undermine or attack Islam? And if that were so, why has Saudi Arabia not been a target of their perverted ideology? Polio was eradicated there many years ago. And do they also believe that the world would somehow be a better place if polio were to return as the scourge it was in the 1960s and 70s; killing and crippling thousands every year?

Pakistan has stood on the brink of polio eradication in the recent past, but the obscurantists and extremists have prevailed, killing the brave vaccinators who work for a pittance as well as those who try to protect them, some of whom are not paid much better. A mindset is not something that can be vaccinated against, and it can be transmitted with ease from person to person, infecting entire communities such is the power of this pernicious perversion. The only effective countermeasure is the deployment of a sustained and universal narrative of sufficient power to overwhelm and eventually subsume the narrative that allows polio to exist in Pakistan. And is there any sign of that? There is not.

A summer of unpaid bills

As the summer season touches its peak, so will power outages in the country. Consumers are already bracing for increased hours of being without electricity, raising questions on the progress the government has made so far in ending the energy crisis, despite being in power for three years. Every year, projects are penciled to increase generation capacity, but little effort is made to increase bill recoveries from areas that have been deemed high-loss ones. There is no doubt that there are people who steal electricity and ruin it for those consumers who pay their bills honestly. The government’s power outage plan for the summer is simple — keep power outages low for areas where bill recoveries are high, while meting out step-motherly treatment for those where bills aren’t paid as regularly.

Treating areas in defined clusters makes the job of the government easy and also signals its intentions — it doesn’t really care for the people. If it did, then it would work doubly hard to improve bill recovery from those who don’t pay instead of unfairly penalising those who pay their bills but have the misfortune of living in areas where power theft is rampant. The authorities need to be strict when it comes to ensuring that electricity bills are paid by individuals and businesses on time. Maybe the focus needs to shift from merely adding megawatts to the national grid, which take years to materialise, to making power distribution companies more efficient in bill recovery. Why do those consumers who pay their bills have to suffer just because they live in an area where the rest are not as conscientious? It is unfair for the government to pass on losses incurred due to power theft to honest consumers, and also expect them to pay high power tariffs. A government official was quick to claim that bill recovery has improved from 86 per cent to 96 per cent during the PML-N’s tenure. If this is indeed the case, it should be proven by exempting areas with high bill recovery from power outages completely. That will not happen.

The cancer of extortion

When extortionists ruthlessly killed a widely respected business leader of Peshawar earlier this year, it cast a lurid light on the murky shenanigans of a group of militants out to make corrupt fortunes. The murder of the chief of Qissa Khwani Bazaar Traders’ Association, at the hands of a blackmail gang associated with the TTP, brought into sharp spotlight a crime otherwise being committed with relative ease and in a hushed manner. The episode sent shockwaves through the provincial capital, sowing panic among citizens. But to think that in the lucrative trade of extortion, the Pakistan-based Taliban are the lone participants is to indulge in a fallacy. Their Afghan cousins, it now increasingly emerges, also take a hefty piece of the pie by pulling strings from across the border.

The Afghan Taliban, aka Islamic Emirate, have been found to be involved in at least nine major cases of extortion in Peshawar in 2015. And two of its factions are among the 12 militant groups involved in the crime in the district. A top police official went so far as to claim that the Afghan Taliban, viewed by many as friendly to Islamabad, have been engaged in extortion since day one. Using Afghan SIMs, they make calls to demand cash from affluent but hapless businessmen of Peshawar. The police officer was at pains to shatter the myth that the Afghan Taliban are not involved in terror, extortion or kidnapping for ransom on Pakistani soil. The lurid truth is quite the opposite. All this is indeed worrisome. Whether it be locals or Afghan-based, the militants must be dealt with an iron hand to dismantle their elaborate networks. Far too often in the past, the distinction observed between so-called bad and good Taliban inflicted incalculable damage to our interests. The law-abiding businessmen of Peshawar deserve to be protected against extortionists who have made their lives a living hell.

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