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Express Tribune Editorials – 30th January 2016

Indo-Pak peace — bumps

The humps in the road that we encounter as we move around are there for our safety, designed to reduce the speed of vehicles and prevent accidents. By contrast, the bumps in the road that leads to peace between India and Pakistan are anything but helpful. The latest speed-breaker comes courtesy a joint statement by the French and Indian sides post to the visit of French President Francois Hollande to New Delhi.

The statement was another from the ‘Pakistan must do more’ file and called for more ‘decisive action’ against Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network and other militant groups, including al Qaeda. The response of our Foreign Office was robust, asking India to stop making unsubstantiated allegationsabout Pakistan. This came as our high commissioner in India was expressing the hope that foreign secretary-level talks would go ahead and that the two foreign secretaries were in communication with each other — which is at least a positive note.

Whilst we agree that unsubstantiated allegations do little for the cause of peace, it must also be noted that the investigation on this side of the border into the Pathankot attack does appear to have run out of steam. India alleges that the attackers came from Pakistan. If we can conclusively refute that, then we need to do so and quickly, but if the allegation has substance then we equally need to acknowledge that as a reality and do something about preventing a similar event in the future. And if we fail to do that, then all we are doing is pouring petrol on the fire for ourselves, and giving India an opportunity to again take us to task. Denial did not work in the case of the Mumbai attacks that led to the disastrous breakdown of the peace process then in train, and we cannot let another opportunity pass us by for want of an outbreak of common-sense diplomacy. The France-India joint statement was ham-fisted, but it must not be allowed to be a bump in the road that slows the inching forwards that has been evident in the last year. Let cool diplomacy prevail.


The rights of minority students

Good news emanating from the education sector anywhere in the country is rare indeed, even rarer when the good news comes with even better news for the religious minorities. There is a diversity of religious minorities in the country — Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian to name but five of them and their children share classrooms with the children of the Muslim majority. Muslim children are taught the fundamentals of their faith via Islamiyat, a section of the curriculum dedicated to inculcating the values of their faith. Children who are not Muslim are usually either offered an alternative of ‘ethics’ in schools in the private sector, but in government schools that is not always the case and they find themselves lumped in with everybody else, often to the considerable displeasure and discomfort of their parents.

The welcome news is that the Sindh Textbook Board (STBB) hasintroduced a book on ethics for non-Muslim children studying from class seven onwards. The book includes information on a range of faiths and practices and will become active in the 2016-17 school year. It is written in Urdu and will be provided free of charge. It is the product of two years of work and we see this as a commendable effort at every level, only sorry that this could not have become a reality decades before this. It goes some way both to recognising the rights of the children of minorities to have primary education in their own faith and to closing the gap on a glaring inequality. Hindu leaders have welcomed the development and commented that it is now for other provinces to do likewise, a move which this newspaper would also support. Primary education is the place where young minds are moulded, setting frameworks and attitudes and beliefs — and prejudices and misunderstandings — that then pervade the life of children everywhere. The faith-minorities of Pakistan have often and rightly complained of discrimination in every part of their lives. They are regularly victimised and marginalised. A move such as this will have far-reaching effects; it will be felt down the years as of benefit to all, and not only the faith-minorities.


The clock is ticking

In an interview aired on January 25 on BBC, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the two months, March and April, were going to be crucial to the future of Afghanistan for generations to come. If the Taliban could not be brought to the negotiating table in that window, then the fighting season would get into gear, the struggle between the Taliban and the Islamic State within Afghanistan would intensify, and the fleeting chances of peace all but lost.

A similar message will also have been given and received in the course of a two-day meeting in Qatar organised by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. President Ghani was a delegate to the moot and offered direct talks with the Taliban, referring to them for perhaps the first time as his “political opponents” — something of a paradigm shift in the confused swirl of Afghan politics. For their part, the Taliban let it be known that if the rest of the world wanted to talk to them, then it should be on the same terms as everybody else that is a party to the Afghan imbroglio. Specifically, the Taliban want the playing field levelled in their favour, with the removal of travel restrictions, freeing of their assets, the release of several prisoners and the formal recognition of their office in Doha that has existed in a kind of limbo for the last three years. The Pugwash talks were ‘unofficial’ as the Afghan government claimed they were unnecessary as the recently launched quadrilateral mechanism involving China, Pakistan, the US and Afghanistan rendered other processes redundant. This is obviously not the case and it must be no surprise that the Taliban want to be playing with the same deck as others in the game. Political realities seem to be dawning for President Ghani who is in the unenviable position of presiding over (yet another) endgame in Afghanistan. But be careful what you give the Taliban, and don’t bother with a watch as they have all the time in the world.

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