EDITORIAL: The Sochi Summit - Friday, August 20, 2010

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\08\20\story_20-8-2010_pg3_1

Amidst much criticism for his foreign tours, President Asif Ali Zardari has attended the Sochi Summit and with the meeting providing promising outcomes, it is hoped that the melee of harshness Mr Zardari has faced will soon quiet down. With Russian President Dimitry Medvedev acting as host to the heads of state from Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, the president projected Pakistan’s case for flood relief and economic cooperation.

The original focus of the summit was to coordinate methods to curb the plague of terrorism that has hit the region with such violent force. The only way forward in this regard is regional cooperation since terrorism is no respecter of borders. All four countries have stated that they will adopt any means necessary to end terrorism within their borders and beyond. The summit also brought to the fore the need to control the drug trade and human trafficking that emanates from the region as these too are linked with crime and terrorism. However, not unnaturally, the unprecedented disaster of the Pakistan floods was the highlight of the discussion, with Russia saying that it was at Pakistan’s “disposal”, a humble and encouraging statement indeed. Medvedev has also expressed his country’s desire to aid in the reconstruction of housing and rehabilitation of livelihoods. It can be seen that from all the pledges and promises to start up mega projects and join hands in economic cooperation, it is Russia’s eagerness to participate in the rehabilitation and development of Pakistan in the present circumstances that stands out. Russia has a great deal to offer and we must keep our priorities in order if we are to avail of its generously proffered assistance.

President Medvedev has shown an interest in Russia’s participation in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, a stellar opportunity, especially since India backed out some time ago. Not only will such an energy corridor, that passes through almost all of Central Asia, increase almost limitless opportunities and connections, it will provide Pakistan with a huge windfall in the transit fees it stands to receive once such an extension of the pipeline is initiated. And this may even be significantly more than if India had stayed on board.

Russia has also stated its willingness to renovate and expand the Pakistan Steel Mills and, considering that the Soviets built the mills back in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s day, it is only logical to get their help as they are familiar with the project.

Medvedev has also expressed an interest in improving Pakistan’s railway tracks. Considering the railway’s straitened state, not only is this welcome, the Russian government could also be approached to supply badly needed locomotives as our attempts to purchase them from China and the US have so far not yielded the desired results.

In addition, Russia has promised increased access for Pakistani students in its academic institutions, which will help provide opportunities and skill enhancement for our youth.

President Zardari has wisely put President Karzai at ease in this meeting by telling him that Pakistan is not interested in meddling in the affairs of other countries, including Afghanistan. This is vital to bridge any trust deficit that may exist between the two neighbours.

All in all, the Sochi Summit proves that with close contact, wisdom, timely deliberation and keen understanding, countries in the region can break free from constraints with a little cooperation in their mutual interests that can go a long way. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Oversight of relief funds

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s proposal for setting up an independent relief commission comprising personalities with impeccable character to oversee the collection, management and distribution of relief funds did not find traction with the PPP and the National Disaster Management Authority (NMDA) bosses, who saw this move as tacitly admitting the charges of corruption and incompetence levelled at the government. While dualisation of systems in the presence of the NDMA may not have been advisable from the administrative point of view, a body entirely run by individuals with a proven track record of credible public service would have evoked public confidence and accelerated the slow response to the massive flood disaster threatening the existence of one-fifth of Pakistan’s population. After dilly-dallying for five days, the government has finally come up with an alternative version of the proposed commission by setting up a National Oversight Disaster Management Council under the aegis of the NDMA, with precisely a similar mandate.

The council will include people of integrity and good repute from different walks of life, who will ensure that the received funds are being distributed transparently and equitably without discrimination vis-à-vis area or province. Given the urgency of the matter, it is hoped that the government would finalise the names of council members on priority basis and allow them to carry out their mandated task with complete independence. The council should not only be empowered to regulate funds, but using its influence with the public, should also mobilise citizens’ contributions and volunteers to aid the government in relief and rehabilitation activities. Without enough funds and helping hands on the ground, relief goods may not reach the intended population in time.

It remains to be seen whether this commission would have the same effect in accelerating aid flows as the one originally proposed. It is high time for the government to actually prove the apprehensions of misappropriation of funds wrong. Let us hope that the present council, a halfway house to partially cover up the trust deficit, works. *

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