Talks are the way out
PML-N’s high-handed approach
Trade union strikes are by no means uncommon. Last year in July and August there were two strikes by underground railway workers in London. Millions of office worker, students, tourists and common people travel daily in the city’s underground trains. The authorities patiently held talks with the union leaders. Finally a compromise was reached and the trains started running as usual. Reacting to the PIA strike on Monday, a federal minister called the strikers “enemies of PIA and Pakistan”, threatening them with the loss of their jobs. Similarly strong language was used by another minister. In democracies the Prime Minister is looked at as an impartial arbitrator. Nawaz Sharif however chose to react like his ministers, threatening that the strikers would be fired and sent to jail for a year.
The autocratic attitudes penetrated down to the law enforcers, who baton charged the protesters, used water cannons and then opened fire, resulting in the death of three strikers. The government’s over-reaction amounted to pouring oil on the fire. On Wednesday, those workers who would not have otherwise joined the protest went on strike leading to the closure of all PIA flights at all airports.
There is a need on the part of both sides to relinquish their extremist stands. The union leaders and government reps need to sit down and discuss how to save the national flag carrier. As the Prime Minister is no more seen as a neutral referee, there is a need for others to mediate. The NA parliamentary committee on PIA, formed to deal with the issue in January, failed to find a way out allegedly because of obstructions created by the government. The offer of mediation by Sindh CM should, therefore, be accepted. It is strongly held by many that privatisation alone can save PIA. Any alternate plan that the union leaders might posses should also be discussed. While the talks continue, the strike should be called off and no action should be taken against any PIA employee involved in strike.
Way forward in Balochistan
Proof of the pudding…
First Gen Raheel hit the nail on the head. Balochistan, in a nutshell, needs negotiations and progress. Then Chief Minister Nawab Zehri stressed how “negotiations, not the bullet” was the only viable solution. And then yesterday the prime minister also emphasised real work, not rhetoric as he inaugurated the Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab highway. There is common ground, therefore, as far as the to-do list regarding Balochistan is concerned. If this development should translate into constructive negotiations with self-exiled Baloch leaders, the elbow room for foreign powers playing out proxy wars in the province – as the army chief pointed out – would also automatically diminish.
But there is so much that is wrong with the province that the problems identified by the leaders amounts to barely scratching the surface. Of course, the Baloch rebellion by disgruntled sardars is a long, lingering problem that must be overcome. And foreign players have stoked and supported revolts and insurgencies for a long time, which must also be stopped. But Balochistan is also the poorest part of Pakistan. Most people continue to be deprived of most basic necessities of life. There is little by way of education and health facilities. People have been disgruntled for decades for not being given their due share from the national kitty. And there is the sectarian nightmare. The Shi’a, especially the helpless Hazara, have been killed by the thousands.
None of these problems are the doing of any outside force. And not many of these found mention in the new direction-setting sermons of our leaders. It is encouraging that a concerted effort seems in the offing to negotiate political differences to an end. It is also about time that foreign irritants are barred from our land once and for all. But the leadership must also tackle other, more routine problems of the province with equal vigour. The people, as everybody rightly noted, are the most precious commodity, and must be invested in more seriously for the uplift effort to have a lasting effect.