EDITORIAL : Threatened polio immunisation campaign
The targeted killing of four women polio
vaccinators in Karachi and one woman near Peshawar has rendered the polio immunisation campaign a high-risk enterprise. Two male immunisers were also wounded in the attacks in Karachi. A day earlier, a worker with the local government-World Health Organisation (WHO) programme was killed in the city. Earlier still, a paramedic was killed and a Ghanaian doctor associated with WHO was wounded along with his driver in Karachi. The current attacks took place in Pashtun-dominated areas in Karachi, indicating the probable hands behind the dastardly act. Although the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan governments expressed their commitment to continue the campaign, WHO has announced the suspension of the campaign. Condemnations have come from the US and the UN and throughout Pakistan. Karachi and some cities of interior Sindh saw protests against the attacks. The security forces have launched an operation in Karachi against suspects and reportedly killed two people and seized weapons. Meanwhile reports while writing these lines say attacks against women immunisers are continuing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That underlines the importance of proper security arrangements for immunisation workers if the suspension by WHO and continuation of the critical campaign are to be saved from the savage clutches of the dark and backward looking forces that are holding our society hostage to their antediluvian agenda.
The Taliban have been resisting the polio immunisation campaign for years. The programme was launched in Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world still polio-endemic, in 1994 with WHO’s help. It had relatively smooth sailing until 2005, when Mullah Radio began fulminating against it on his illegal FM channel. His example spread to other Taliban-run illegal FM stations, all of them initially painting the immunisation campaign as a conspiracy to make Muslims infertile and thereby reduce their population. New arguments were mustered against the polio immunisation campaign over the years, but they reached the peak of hostility after the Osama bin Laden raid. Now the Taliban have managed to declare a ban in Waziristan, which has put 240,000 children in the tribal areas at risk.
The irrationality of the Taliban mindset is nowhere better on display than in this motivated offensive against a healthcare programme that will ensure our children are safe from the crippling disease. The polio virus is threatening to carry over borders into neighbouring countries and perhaps further abroad, which could bring in health restrictions against Pakistani citizens seeking to travel internationally. The targets selected, women and men associated with the work and unable to defend themselves against such attacks, prove that the Taliban, apart from attacking military facilities like the attack on the Pakistan Air Force base in Peshawar following earlier assaults against the Mehran base in Karachi and the Kamra air base, are now also focusing on soft targets. Apparently the authorities had received prior warnings of possible attacks against the polio immunisation teams, but no security was provided to them. This is one more failure of the security authorities, for which Interior Minister Rehman Malik received more than his fair share of flak in the National Assembly from even his own party MNAs.
Pakistan will not be able to ensure a better future for its people or its children unless the whole country is united and mobilised in support of the security forces’ efforts against the terrorists. A tiny minority of fanatical extremists and their tacit or explicit supporters in society and sections of the media have managed to so muddy the waters regarding whether or not this war is ours, etc, that the national will required to combat the menace is conspicuous by its absence, the brave souls who still stand up against the fanatics and terrorists notwithstanding. The struggle against the terrorists is for the very soul of Pakistan. Let it not be said with hindsight that we were found lacking. *
SECOND EDITORIAL : PAC vs judiciary
The ongoing tussle between the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Supreme Court (SC) over a relative non-issue might end up becoming unnecessary fraught and a waste of time and resources. What, after all, is the problem if the SC is asked to be transparent about its funds and spending? What is wrong with the PAC seeking information from the Registrar of the SC on this and asking him to appear before it? How would the Registrar’s appearance before the PAC affect the status of the SC? If the SC’s financial affairs are in order, as the audit reports suggest, surely there is nothing wrong in cooperating with the PAC. The full court decision not to appear that the Registrar is relying on is interpreted by some jurists as an administrative, not judicial decision and therefore not binding. The decision dates to 2005, after Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was appointed. Before that, up to 2004, Registrars appeared regularly. For the sake of institutional harmony, which the country is in dire need of today, the Registrar can be asked to resurrect this lapsed precedent. From the perspective of an ordinary citizen it is not a big deal. However, if the judiciary is, for some reason, fixated on its being sovereign, over and above parliament, then of course the matter would linger to become a national issue.
State institutions in Pakistan are in the process of defining their respective functions, powers and limits. This should be done in an atmosphere of cooperation in the interest of consolidating democracy and not be seen as a zero-sum game. The resolution to such problems lies in understanding that parliament, the judiciary and the executive have their own spheres of jurisdiction and where they collide, they need to be resolved with wisdom, not confrontation. All institutions of the state should work toward the stability of the system. If an institution is defining its independence on the basis of being the be all and end all and beyond any check and balance, then that means the institution is avoiding transparent accountability. Just like the udiciary is on the path to newly defined independence so is parliament. Of course the SC is the ultimate interpreter of the constitution but that does not make it above answerability for the public funds bestowed upon it by the exchequer. One hopes better sense prevails and a non-issue is not allowed to become a bone of contention between the judiciary and parliament. The PAC has decided to throw the ball back in the court of parliament. Wisdom dictates both sides settle the issue amicably. *