Dawn Editorial with topic background, Vocabulary (April 22, 2021)
WHILE the postponement of the Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan, which were scheduled to be held later this week, does come as a dampener, it does not mean that the peace process is dead. In fact, global and regional powers will now have to step up their efforts to ensure that the Afghan government and the insurgents continue the dialogue process and achieve a consensus acceptable to all in Afghanistan. At this point, the Afghan Taliban’s lack of participation in the Istanbul parleys is being cited as the major reason for the event’s postponement, while the Turkish foreign minister has said the talks had been put off till “after Ramazan”. Apparently, the Taliban are posturing as the Biden administration has pushed back the withdrawal date of foreign troops from May 1 to Sept 11; the earlier date was agreed upon by the Taliban and the Trump administration after the two signed the Doha peace agreement in 2020. The Taliban have adopted the maximalist position that they will not participate in any peace negotiations until foreign forces leave Afghanistan, though Pakistan has urged the militia to stay engaged.
At this critical juncture, the Taliban can play hardball and avoid the negotiating table, rendering years of painstaking diplomatic efforts meaningless as Afghanistan plunges back into anarchy. However, the alternative is for the armed group to keep channels open and reach a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government and other stakeholders in the country. Perhaps Pakistan and other Muslim states — the Arabs, Turkey, Iran — can ramp up diplomatic efforts to ensure that the Taliban do not walk away from the peace process. It should be clear that achieving peace will require compromises from all Afghan power players, and the ‘all or nothing’ approach will only pile more misery upon the hapless Afghan people. With a mix of carrots and sticks, there is a fair chance of convincing the Taliban. Moreover, foreign forces must also honour their commitments and withdraw as per the new deadline, while the government in Kabul must show that it is ready to defend the whole country without foreign support. The brief window of opportunity for achieving peace in Afghanistan is closing, and it is not known when — or if — the next one will open. Therefore, an increased diplomatic push by foreign powers and internal efforts by the Afghans themselves are required to grab the opportunity before it slips away yet again.
No mining precautions
YET another accident caused by a methane gas explosion has been reported from the dangerous coal mines of Balochistan. Eight miners suffered serious burns when an explosion occurred in a private coal mine in the Dukki area. A portion of the mine collapsed, trapping the workers before they were rescued and taken to the district hospital. The injured miners were incredibly lucky to have escaped with their lives. Only last month, at least 13 coal miners were burnt to death under similar circumstances when trapped methane gas exploded inside coal mines in Harnai district and the Marwar area in Bolan district. Meanwhile, in February last year, four workers were killed in a landslide in the Dukki mines. The frequency of deadly accidents in the country’s coal mines can be gauged by the fact that last year there were at least 72 deadly incidents reported from Balochistan that claimed the lives of 100 colliers.
It is deeply unfortunate that despite the heavy casualty rate in the country’s coal-mining sector, the deaths of poor workers seldom makes headlines. The colliers venture hundreds of feet deep inside the mines without any safety gear except for helmets and torches. They do not receive any prior training to overcome the extreme hazards of their occupation. It is only when an accident occurs that the government is stirred into action — only to come up with the lame excuse that it doesn’t have enough resources to ensure the regular inspection of the mines or provide proper safety equipment. This perilous sector is responsible for many deaths that could have been prevented. Safety precautions including protective gadgets can save lives. However, the apathy demonstrated by both provincial and national authorities in building the capacities of the mining department, hiring more mines inspectors and penalising mine owners who do not ensure the safety of their employees is beyond comprehension. Prompt measures are needed to ensure that safety procedures are followed in the coal mines to prevent further injuries and loss of life.