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Pakistan Today Editorial – 20th December 2015

Losing the plot

Between accountability and vendetta

Even after the Rangers extension and Karachi Operation particulars have been sorted out – with all the conditions imposed by the Sindh government – it is still not clear what direction the Operation as a whole is going to take. There can be no denying, of course, that all sorts of criminal activity has registered a visible downtrend in the city. But it is also true that this Operation stepped upon sensitive fault-lines all along the way, igniting inter-provincial discord and mounting centre-Sindh friction. And most of all, it has continuously led to cries of deliberate victimisation, prompting some to question whether the fine line between accountability and vendetta has been crossed.

The case of Dr Asim is a good example. An anti-corruption drive was always going to be a central part of cleaning up not just Karachi, but the entire country. But the manner of his detention, and the mystery surrounding continuous extension of his remand – now in NAB custody – is difficult to explain. If Rangers had compelling evidence, which they seem pretty sure of, then why the Rangers-police-NAB route, why not proper legal proceedings? It is in part because of the way this particular case was handled that the Sindh government was able to argue in favour of its conditions more forcefully.

Now the Operation is going to be of a somewhat different nature. Having the provincial government in the loop will make it more democratic, but it will do PPP’s reputation little good. The coming days will tell a lot. If there are attempts by the government to block Rangers’ advances towards its more favoured patrons, there will clearly be heightened confrontation. How that benefits the city, or the Operation, is not easy to quantify. Perhaps now that the Operation is being fine-tuned, the government should employ greater state machinery. Rangers, which have done a good job against militancy, should continue from where things stopped on Dec6. And offices of the FIA, NAB, etc, should be directly employed to tackle financial and terrorism related corruption.

The sad state of education

Ignoring the future

This is not the only depressing report about the state on education in Pakistan. The Annual Status of Education Report-ASER 2015 is, however, the latest study that underlines the malaise with more startling statistics. Notwithstanding the ruling party’s claims education remains as neglected as it was under previous administrations. Despite a marginal increase in budgetary allocation several national and international commitments to bring out-of school children to school remain unfulfilled.

20 per cent of children between six and 16 are out-of-school across the country. The survey also shows that the remaining 80 per cent, who are enrolled in the same age bracket, are not learning much. For many living below poverty line education for children provides no guarantee for an assured income. Poor families living from hand to mouth often send their children for cattle grazing or working at brick kilns. In cities, small trades thrive on child labour. Children from poor background work at puncture shops, canteens and even in hazardous trades. Unless education is seen to be a step towards a fruitful career, it will fail to attract children from indigent families.

The funds allocated for education are not commensurate with the communities’ needs. In Pakistan it is the old choice between the guns and butter. The physical condition of government schools often discourages students. 16 per cent of surveyed public sector primary schools do not have drinking water facilities, while 48 per cent do not have toilets. In addition, 37 per cent of primary schools are reportedly functioning without boundary walls. As adviser to CM Balochistan has pointed out 1.6 million children, two thirds of them girls, are out of school in the province because of a dire shortage of schools and wherever these exist they lack facilities.

Pakistan has a large youthful population which can be turned into an asset by imparting good education and proper skills. With negligence on the part of the government the disgruntled section of the youth become tools in the hands of terrorists.

Punjab’s anti-polio drive

Criminal neglect

Punjab will have to answer for grave neglect and maladministration in its anti-polio drive. According to news reports, the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) staff has ‘wasted’ at least 24 per cent of the Inactivated/Inject-able polio vaccine (IPV). This vaccine is very expensive – so much that the government simply cannot afford it – and is being provided, free of cost, by a well-known global health partner and donor, Gavi. The organisation is active in the world’s poorest countries, ‘creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children’.

So, not only are we unable to tackle the polio situation on our own – nor even afford some of the most essential vaccines – we are also wasting precious help from the outside. This has happened at a time when Gavi was providing absolutely free vaccine to children who needed about 300,000 doses every month. Some of the stock has been simply wasted, while a good amount has been misused. That means the staff was also not trained properly and no checks and balances were kept. This wastage, too, was discovered by Gavi, which has also complained about lack of interest of relevant authorities regarding the issue.

Interestingly, the same day the press carried reports of Punjab’s anti-polio work being ‘lauded’. Apparently, the country coordinator for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), after meeting with Punjab Health Secretary, Health DG, etc, was all praise for the ‘government’s efforts to fight polio’ and said Punjab was leading Pakistan’s fight against the disease. Such a state of affairs reflects acute disregard for the people’s problems, the government’s responsibilities and its obligations. Little wonder, under such circumstances, that we stand behind the whole world in fighting this crippling disease. This amounts to unforgivable neglect. The Punjab government is wasting not only one of the rarest international gestures of help, but also the precious lives of our children.

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