Dawn Editorial with topic background, Vocabulary (April 01, 2021)
Exchange of letters
IN the latest act of the Pakistan-India de-escalation process, Prime Minister Imran Khan has written to his Indian counterpart to respond to the latter’s Pakistan Day congratulatory letter. “An enabling environment is imperative for … result-oriented dialogue”, Mr Khan wrote, adding that “durable peace and stability in South Asia” required the resolution of all outstanding issues, particularly Jammu and Kashmir.
In the March 23 communication, Narendra Modi had called for “an environment of trust” for better ties, while desiring “cordial relations” with Pakistan. On the surface, there is nothing remarkable in this exchange of pleasantries. However, in the context of the last few years, where bilateral relations have been particularly toxic, these brief exchanges are being viewed as the beginning of a nascent peace process. Expectations, of course, should not be too high. Both the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers were recently in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to participate in the Heart of Asia meeting. While no bilateral meeting took place, observers noted that both officials avoided combative rhetoric aimed at the other at the conclave. Another major sign that a thaw in relations is underway came on Wednesday, when the Economic Coordination Committee announced that Pakistan would be importing Indian sugar and cotton.
At this point, perhaps the best way to take the peace process forward is to encourage such confidence-building measures as trade, and continue the dialogue process through the backchannel. As mentioned above, bilateral ties have been particularly strained over the past few years, with both states coming to the brink of war in 2019. Undoing this atmosphere of distrust and suspicion will take both time and effort. Along with continuing the dialogue process, hawks on both sides of the fence must be ignored, as they will not want to see the normalisation of relations.
However, it appears that the quarters concerned on both sides may be serious about peace. The prime minister and the army chief have both stressed the need for better bilateral ties, while at the other end the anti-Pakistan rhetoric has been toned down and Mr Modi himself is offering this country peace overtures. There may be several pitfalls along the way and there is a profound difference in the way Islamabad and New Delhi view key issues, particularly the Kashmir dispute. Be that as it may, both states must put in their best efforts to make peace work this time and bring to an end the long-standing tensions.
High Covid numbers
THE picture that is emerging from Covid-19 wards at hospitals in Islamabad, Punjab and KP is deeply distressing. Oxygen beds are filling up fast and some coronavirus patients are being admitted to emergency wards. In the capital, a major hospital is facing serious staff shortage as scores of healthcare workers have tested positive and are either isolating at home or are in quarantine centres. The District Health Office too has sounded the alarm about an increase in Covid-19 hospital admissions and asked both private and state-run-hospitals to build capacity for critical patients. The number of single-day positive cases reported in the capital on Monday is the highest it has ever been since the pandemic began. The NCOC has revealed that 26 cities have a positivity rate higher than 8pc — a reality that is reflected in increased hospitalisations and ventilator use in both Punjab and the capital. On Tuesday, the centre reported the grim figure of 100 Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours.
It is a pity that Pakistan has been plunged into this deadly wave at a point when we know more about the virus and prevention than we did a year ago. Daily new cases are consistently high because for months now, both ordinary people and public office holders have shown carelessness. Ignoring SOPs such as wearing masks and social distancing, both citizens and officials have defied global protocols and even congregated at rallies and mass weddings. In the same period, though many countries were in lockdown, we relished the ‘magical’ immunity believed to be associated with the lower reported death and case rate here. The result is before us. This week, the government has announced a ban on weddings starting April 5, though why it not doing so at once is confusing. One also hopes that there is no resistance to curbs on large gatherings at mosques and taraweeh prayers during Ramazan, otherwise the threat of infection will only increase. The government must appeal to all sections of the public and create a sense of urgency about Covid-19 SOPs. It must also be unequivocal in its communication and actions to convince people that the the virus is a serious public health crisis and will further weaken an already overstretched healthcare sector.
As cases cast a pall of doom, all hope is pinned on the availability of a vaccine. Here, the queue-jumping and out-of-turn procurement of the vaccine by influential politicians is a reprehensible manifestation of privilege that is often witnessed during times of crisis. The government must ensure that it procures vaccines and makes them available for at-risk members of the population fast. The provinces too, must do their part to engage global manufacturers with a view to supplying the vaccine. Without a widely accessible and efficiently rolled-out vaccine programme, the authorities are robbing people of their right to both safety and freedom.