Friday, September 19, 2014

SCOTLAND VOTES TO STAY IN THE UK

Only four Scottish constituencies voted in favor of seceding from the U.K.

Scotland rejected independence in Friday’s referendum count, with around 55% of voters choosing to stay within the U.K. The 307-year-strong union has survived, although increased powers will be devolved to the nation.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who spearheaded the Yes campaign, conceded defeat at around 6:17 a.m. local time. “On behalf of the Scottish government I accept the result and pledge to work constructively in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“The process by which we have made our decision as a nation reflects enormous credit upon Scotland. A turnout of 86% is one of the highest in the democratic world for any election or referendum in history — this has been a triumph for the democratic process and participation in politics.”

Despite a hard-fought campaign, only four of the 32 local authority districts voted for independence, including populous Glasgow, although even in this key constituency the margin was not particularly large, in a devastating blow to the Yes camp.

The final bell tolled for secession advocates after Edinburgh voted to maintain ties with the south by 61%.

“I am delighted,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron, hinting that more devolved powers would also be rolled out to other British regions. “It would have broken my heart to see the United Kingdom come to the end.”

Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer who led the No campaign, admitted that the closeness of the result was a wake-up call.

“Today is a momentous today for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole,” he said. “While confirming our place within the union, we have confirmed the bonds that tie us together — may they never be broken.”

Pubs across the country were staying open throughout the night with customers both anxious and excited to see whether the historic union would be consigned to the history books.

Greg Waddell, a doctor working in Glasgow, told TIME that he voted Yes “because disempowerment breeds dependency; because the current extent of social inequality in Scotland demeans every one of its people.”

Others among the 4.2 million registered voters were less optimistic about prospects for going it alone. Nick Allan, an oil executive from Aberdeen, said the Yes campaign promises were enticing, but he voted No as it would be impossible to pay for them — especially not with North Sea oil.

“The problem comes down to money,” he says. “How on God’s earth are you going to be able to afford all of these improvements? The country will be bankrupt in a matter of years.”

Many questions regarding what a truly independent Scotland would look like remained unanswered, including over currency, health care, defense and E.U. membership. Spain’s Prime Minister was one of several European leaders who said he would not support Scotland’s application to the bloc, as the Iberian nation was unwilling to fan separatist campaigns of its own.

These fears were echoed by Professor Michael Desch, an expert on foreign policy at the Notre Dame University.

“Ironically, a peaceful Scottish secession from the United Kingdom could open Pandora’s Box by raising unrealistic expectations about the ease of parting long-established national ways,” he said.

The vote captivated social media. Over the past 24 hours, 1.3 million people on Facebook made 3.3 million interactions regarding the Scottish referendum debate.
Courtesy: time.com

Monday, September 15, 2014

A LONE WOLF PACES THE STAGE

Courtesy Kashif Abbasi 

On Thursday afternoon, as party leaders announced the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s decision to suspend talks with the government, a lonely wolf paced the roof of his container on Constitution Avenue.

Under the glare of the afternoon sun, Imran Khan was all but alone atop his stage – save for a few other party hands. But before him were not the multitudes that he had grown accustomed to.

In fact, around 2pm, dozens of empty chairs stared back at the PTI chief as he grabbed the mic to try and rouse the spirits of those who were in attendance.

Mr Khan was obviously perturbed, his mind no doubt preoccupied by the politicking that he and his party leaders were involved in.

But as he paced back and forth in clear view of TV cameras, those in attendance betrayed a sense of concern – even if for a brief while.

But as time passed and he began to speak to the crowd, morale among those in attendance improved. More people began to arrive by the late afternoon and the mood in the crowd as well as atop the container began to improve.

“I think our leader is worried about our party workers following reports that the government is set to launch a crackdown against them,” said Mohammad Hashim, who came all the way from Sargodha to hear his leader speak.

Another PTI supporter, Irfan Ahmed, appeared confused, saying it looked like something might happen because the main leadership, including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi, Asad Umar and Jahangir Tareen were missing from the stage.

But at the time, these leaders were addressing a press conference, where they announced the conditional suspension of the ongoing dialogue with the government committee.

“My cousin, a constable in the Punjab police, is deployed here on special duty. He told me a few minutes ago that the government is mulling a crackdown… so I think the chairman is thinking about some way to counter this,” said Mardan-resident Niaz Ahmed.

But things improved drastically by the early evening, as Islamabad residents, who had left the venue to freshen up, began to return in droves. In the interim, Mr Khan’s fiery anti-government rhetoric and the rousing beats of DJ Butt kept workers’ morale high. Indeed, hundreds of workers could be seen dancing to the tunes of revolution, particularly the Pashto anthem ‘Waya Waya’.

“There is no need to be tense. It is commonplace for our workers to join the sit-in after sunset. You will see, in the evening thousands will join us,” said another party worker Abdullah Ahmed.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NOTHING CHANGED WITH THE RAINS

Looking at the pictures of inundated streets, flooded roads and overflowing drains, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the first time monsoon rains have unleashed themselves on the province of Punjab. But that would be fooling no one but ourselves. The whole country deals with monsoon rains every year, sometimes in buckets and sometimes in spades. This year, the rainy season has arrived late, but now it has come with a vengeance.

The fact that the provincial government and our disaster management agencies have been caught with their pants down once again is not just embarrassing, it is costing lives. So far, the death toll has reached more than 80. The causes of death include roof collapses, landslides and electrocution. All of these fatalities can be attributed to negligence and an extreme lack of preparedness to tackle a problem that afflicts us each year. Lahore is hardly recognisable: knee high water, homes flooded with rain and gutter filth and vehicles stranded in deep pools. Work, commute, daily activities have all come to a halt because the administration and the disaster management authorities have been lazing about all year refusing to prepare for what we all knew was likely to come. Weather reports state that the downpour will continue for the next few days, perhaps even intensifying in nature. This spells catastrophe for a majority of the people living in shanty homes and the presence of poor quality infrastructure will ensure that more tragic deaths follow.
 
In low-lying areas such as our main cities in Punjab, the monsoon rains are particularly harsh. The poor, ancient drainage system cannot handle the deluge and overflows within minutes, resulting in filthy standing water. No one has bothered to fix or replace this faulty system over the years and, to add insult to injury, no one has even tried to extend any measures to limit the damage by improving the quality of construction in poorer areas of the cities. Every year people with limited resources suffer the rains while those more fortunate celebrate the onset of the monsoon.

However, not many are celebrating this year as even Azad Kashmir is registering record highs in rainfall and is facing landslides. Some 80 villages near Sialkot have been evacuated due to flash flood warnings. Reports suggest that as much as 0.9 million cusecs of water have entered Pakistan through the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has issued flood warnings and that is all. The Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA) stands helpless in oceans of deluge, not knowing where to even begin any relief efforts. It is of little surprise then that the army has been called in to help relocate evacuated families (once again).
 
The flash floods of 2010 submerged one fifth of the country in water and displaced millions of people. We still have internally displaced persons (IDPs) from that catastrophe languishing without shelter and rehabilitation. Subsequent floods and monsoon rains have added to the IDP count and infrastructure damage with nothing done to lessen the hardships of the masses. This is the pathetic state of a country that should be well equipped by now to deal with the calamity of expected rainfall but our only form of management seems to be to mutely move from one disaster to the next, praying that the worst will soon be over. Concrete steps need to be taken to improve construction, the state of how people live, the drainage and sanitation and an early warning system designed to alert the public to impending disasters. We may not be able to entirely alleviate the impact of Mother Nature, but we can at least try to lessen the tragedy and destruction as much as humanly possible.


Courtesy: Daily Times

Monday, September 1, 2014

OUR DARKEST HOUR

Saturday night (August 30, 2014) was a dark time in Pakistan’s history. Spurred on by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan, workers from the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Pakistan Teheek-e-Insaaf (PTI) formed a mob and attacked the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) House and the fenced compound that encloses the houses of parliament and the presidency. Veteran human rights campaigner Asma Jehangir, whose moral stature towers above these two riot instigators, had it right when she told a local television channel: “There is no such thing as peaceful banditry.” Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, despite their numerous claims of wanting peaceful protest, engaged instead in one of the most disgusting spectacles of mob violence this country has had the misfortune of seeing.

Saturday night’s events have already become obscured by controversy, but the sequence of events shows precisely where responsibility lies for the injuries and deaths among rioters and the police, and the destruction of public property. After presenting yet another deadline to the government for the PM’s resignation, Tahirul Qadri led from behind and ordered his workers to march towards the PM’s House while he sat in his car. Imran Khan had previously said he would not join in the invasion, making promises to the government and the military that these areas would remain sacrosanct. However, at the last minute, and reportedly against the majority consensus in his party, he decided to join his workers to Tahirul Qadri’s. They also told their workers to begin protests in other cities. The combined mob began to press towards the PM’s residence, but diverted and began leaping over and breaking the gates and fences surrounding parliament and the presidency.
 
After the police retreated literally to the doors of the presidency, this was the line drawn in the sand that the government could not ignore and when the mob turned towards the buildings, the police were forced to teargas them and drive them off the premises. The mob responded by attacking the police, using batons and rocks and the situation soon devolved into a full scale riot on the presidency grounds. Reportedly the protestors tried to force their way into the National Assembly (NA) but retreated when they saw the doors were guarded by army and Rangers personnel. No doubt they were told by their leadership not to engage the military. However, engaging the police was more than enough to turn the parliament grounds and Constitution Avenue into a veritable warzone, with rioters bent on causing destruction after being left with no clear goal in mind. In Lahore a mob assembled at Liberty Roundabout and began trashing storefronts and looting.

The riot in Islamabad lasted well into the morning though by then the mob of several thousand had dwindled to several hundreds. Three people were killed and hundreds injured, some by rubber bullets but most from exposure to teargas. Through it all Imran Khan was visible on top of his container, loudspeaker in hand, exhorting workers to charge the police, fight, and attack parliament. It was a sight so putrid that it beggars belief he has the gall to stand in front of the Pakistani nation again today and claim he is the victim. Apparently this realisation is dawning on PTI leaders too. Javed Hashmi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi were reportedly against the decision to join the riot and have not appeared beside Imran Khan since. After calling for a joint session of parliament for Tuesday, it is hoped that the government can quell the riots and bring the perpetrators to justice after imposing Section 144 in Islamabad, which prohibits large public gatherings, but one cannot rule out the possibility that fresh elections become inevitable, despite the PM’s legal mandate.

The country is now poised on the brink of an uncertain future and the situation is grave enough that COAS General Raheel Shareef moved up a corps commanders meeting to Sunday evening to discuss it. He must order the army to do its duty and protect the official residence of its commander-in-chief. With another battle in Islamabad looming, the next 24 hours may decide the future of this country.


Courtesy: Daily Times