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Express Tribune Editorials – 27th March 2016

The Pope, Muslims and Easter

The Christian festival of Easter is being celebrated around the world by most of the principal denominations. Pope Francis is the leader of the world congregation of Catholics, but he often speaks across the denominational divide. On Good Friday, speaking from the Vatican, he condemned “unprecedented violence” by Muslim militants saying that those who carried out extremist acts or terrorism were profaning the name of God. He referred to the persecution of Christians in some Middle Eastern countries and their being forced to flee their homes. On Maundy Thursday, he washed and kissed the feet of 11 refugees, including four women and three Muslim men, one of whom was of Pakistan origin, a traditional act of humility that has a particular resonance today. He afterwards said in an unscripted comment that “all of us together, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals (are) but brothers, children of the same God who want to live in peace, integrated”. In keeping with the papal desire to be inclusive, the ceremony was attended by non-Catholics and thousands of women — a move that has provoked the ire of Catholic conservatives.

The words of the Pope are for all people of every faith or nationality. His papacy has been characterised by an unprecedented reaching out to the wider world, more so than any of his predecessors for generations — perhaps ever. He has broadened the papal role into risky political areas having played a part in the brokerage of the rapprochement between America and Cuba, and has been bold in speaking out on issues of civil rights. The Christians of Pakistan, many of whom are Catholics, will have heard the Easter message from Pope Francis and doubtless reflected upon their own unhappy position in their native land. Many have fled, some to the refugee camps in Thailand and elsewhere fearful of the persecution they experience in Pakistan. The Easter message from the Vatican will have rung hollow for many of them, as it would for every other minority, whatever their faith, in the country. Despite this, we wish all who celebrate it a happy, and above all peaceful, Easter.

Misery at World T20

Bruised and battered, Pakistan have limped out of the World Twenty20 as all claims, plans and hopes of advancing to the semi-finals came crashing down in India. For the first four editions of this tournament, Pakistan were frontrunners, with a final appearance in 2007, victory in 2009 and semi-final berths in 2010 and 2012. But the last two events have been a grim reminder of the gap prevailing between the national team and the leading international teams. Pakistan started their ‘preparations’ for the showdown in India, last year in April, with a one-off match against Bangladesh at Mirpur and as the last rites were being administered against a rampant Australia at Mohali, captain Shahid Afridi and coach Waqar Younis were still searching for the perfect combination.

The less said about Afridi’s captaincy during the event the better. He looked increasingly frazzled as the weight of defeats wore him down, right from the Asia Cup to the humbling by Steven Smith’s team on March 25. His game plan was shoddy, field placements all-too defensive, and utilisation of his batsmen incomprehensible. Sarfraz Ahmed, who played two substantial knocks batting in the top-order during the Asia Cup, didn’t get a single opportunity to bat at positions where he could have made an impact, especially in conditions tailor-made for his style and temperament. Waqar was quick to blame his team and labelled it “not good enough” more than once during the course of the tournament, something that surely did not help the confidence and morale of his wards. In the aftermath of this humiliation, the age-old mantra of ‘rebuilding’ is doing the rounds again. The fact remains that Pakistan fall woefully short when it comes to fitness, strategising, fielding and, above all, basic common sense needed to win cricket games. There is a lack of effective planning and execution of the simple skills of the game. Some of the players have been taking things for granted for a long time while the team think tank is quite simply, not close to international standards. The coming days are set to be interesting as the PCB attempts another ‘clean-up’ for the umpteenth time.

Launching a new airline

How can one even think of launching an airline in the public sector when one could not save an already existing one from failing with the full sovereign authority at one’s command? This is what appears to be happening, with the prime minister being given a detailed briefing on March 24 on how the new airline, which the authorities recently registered with an authorised capital of Rs100 billion, will be made operational. The government, at the same time, is attempting to sell off strategic minority shares in PIA to a private party, while offering the buyer even before the deal is done with competition — in the form of the new airline — supported by sovereign guarantees. Only a private party that is totally devoid of rudimentary business acumen would even think of bidding for shares in such a company, even if its total liabilities (Rs330 billion) are written off by the government. It would be an oxymoronic situation to have a wholly public-owned airline competing with one similar but being run by a private management.

While it is still not clear whether the new airline would be a stand-alone one or a subsidiary of PIA, the latest announcement in this regard, talks of creating an airline reflecting the past image of the national flag carrier; the crew and staff trained by the best institutions and, ensuring state-of-the-art service for passengers. Except for core businesses, the rest of the services of the new airline are to be outsourced; a lean management structure is envisaged for optimising its efficiency as well as an emoluments structure, commensurate with the quality of human resource. This is a mission statement, not a business plan. A business plan would consist of details about fleet strength, landing rights and other infrastructure. These cannot be reflected in a mission statement, which does not even say how a government, which has failed to turn around an already existing public-sector airline, would make the new one a profitable enterprise. Indeed, this very mission statement could have been used for restructuring PIA instead of hurtling it into the unknown. Instead, we have a new airline being launched by a government, which has been known to subscribe to the mantra that governments have no business to be in business.

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