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Pakistan Today Editorial – 26th March 2016

Muslim terror phenomenon

The wrong bandwagon

For all its appearances, the Brussels attack was not just another one of those high-profile hits that has made ISIS, and the Islamic terrorism buzzword, famous. It marks a major turning point in the war against terrorism. Two is a trend, as they say in the world of science, and Paris and now Brussels means the paradigm of the war has just undergone a confirmed shift. No doubt this will draw a spirited response from Europe in general and Brussels in particular, and rightly so. But will it also, finally, provoke the necessary soul-searching that the west must also undergo if this fight is to be really fought and won?

Da’ish, clearly, is far from down and out and will mutate further before the war is over. By erecting a theatre of war in Europe, however limited, it is once again grabbing the initiative – which it suddenly snatched after taking Mosul and was only relieved of by Russian and Iranian involvement in the war. But, essentially, it is able to strike deep in Europe because already deep-rooted Muslim discontent has helped it overcome logistical and recruiting problems. Along with yet another aerial blitzkrieg that the west will mull post-Brussels, Europe must also immediately address Muslim grievances if it wants to deprive Da’ish of its most cherished foothold.

Then there is also the migrant problem to consider in present day Europe. Sadly, though, it seems that the attack has given the right-wing just the kind of fodder it was looking for. Instead of playing a crucial part in helping overcome the ‘Muslim terror’ phenomenon, Europe’s more conservative political establishments are bent upon not only shutting the refugees out – the people running from the people that just bombed Brussels – but also restricting and monitoring Muslim presence on the continent. People and capitals subscribing to such ideas are hopping onto the wrong bandwagon. They must realise that they are only stoking the fire of terrorism. Europe, just like much of the Muslim world, is now engulfed in the terror war. It, too, must now play a part in helping calm matters.

Trade policy

The usual

Sometimes the commerce ministry works as if in isolation. And, just like their counterparts in the finance ministry, its officials also feel as if a poor showing for a couple of years – in terms of achieving budgetary targets – is no reason not to keep setting ambitious targets. The Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2015-18 now talks of achieving $35 billion in exports by the time PML-N goes asking for votes again in the general election. And, quite boldly, the Framework suggests overcoming local production problems – energy, efficiency, competitiveness, value addition, etc, and increasing trade across the region, as if by the stroke of a pen.

To its credit, the government seems to have found the text book path to a surplus – remove energy problems, expand production base, add value to products, enhance competitiveness and simply increase exports and earn more. And the Framework is quite full of words like incentives and innovation and expansion. Yet the proof of the pudding must, at the end of the day, lie in the eating. Talk of increasing regional trade must, of course, be welcomed. But why does the government think it has been put off all this time? There can be little trade unless the export basket bags a price in the international market, of course. And the N-league has come and gone again and again (like others), made the same promises, yet the export matrix has hardly changed all these years.

The Framework’s seriousness can best be judged from the fact that it offers little or no incentives for the disgruntled textile sector, which contributes 57 per cent to the final export figure. The text book approach that the ruling party is seemingly employing mandates building on production strengths to improve exports. All talk of improving competitiveness will amount to nothing if the textile sector continues to be deprived of value addition, among other issues. Once again the ruling party is building expectations and making promises that it will struggle to honour. And it is doing so close enough to the election to matter.

Pak-Iran relations

Moment of opportunity

President Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan should be the first of many such exchanges as Islamabad and Tehran set the tone for mutual ‘business’ after the latter emerges from international sanctions. Indeed, as the visiting president rightly pointed out, there is no limit to benefits that can come the way of both countries if they take advantage of this exchange. Iran, rich in oil and gas, can go a long way in solving our chronic energy problem. It is at the centre of our economic paralysis. Already the Iran-Pakistan pipeline window was lost because of the international environment. But now that the two countries are back at the table, they must make sure they do not let any outside influence interfere with the progress.

The start has been encouraging. One of the most telling sings was the two heads of states agreeing on increasing the number of crossings across the long borer. This will not only increase commerce and people-to-people exchange, but also encourage joint monitoring and security of border areas; something both countries can benefit from. The idea envisaging greater connectivity between Gwadar and Chabahar is also a winner. It should have been realised ages ago, like the pipeline and wider energy and trade cooperation, but for far too long we let political influences and great games dictate foreign as well as economic policy. As a result, we have to take the first baby steps now for projects that should have started delivering decades ago.

That, of course, is all the more reason that the new progress should be cherished and nurtured. Pakistan has not had the best history when it comes to getting along nicely with neighbours. Lately, though, there have been clear signs of policy revision; not just in Islamabad, but also in some of our neighbouring capitals. Hopefully a new pattern will strengthen in weeks and months to come, benefiting us not only politically and security wise, but also economically.

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