EDITORIAL: Presidential address - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\03\23\story_23-3-2011_pg3_1

President Asif Ali Zardari addressed a joint session of parliament for the fourth time since he became the head of state. The opposition parties first recorded their protest and then boycotted the session. The PML-N, PML-Q, JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) were amongst the parties that decided to register their protest against the PPP-led government by a boycott. It was good to see that the opposition did not create as big a ruckus as was expected by some. In fact, the opposition did not behave all that badly if our past record is kept in mind. Former president General Pervez Musharraf only addressed the joint session of parliament once during his nine-year rule. The opposition kept chanting: “Go Musharraf, go” and “No dictatorship, no” during his speech. Being a military dictator, Musharraf was not used to public voices of dissent and thus decided not to address parliament again after this episode. This clearly shows the difference between a dictatorship and democracy. This time around, the opposition registered their protest in a more democratic and peaceful manner.

President Zardari started his speech by condemning the desecration of the Quran by Pastor Terry Jones in Florida. “It is a serious setback to the efforts at promoting harmony among civilised communities throughout the world,” said Mr Zardari and urged the House to adopt a resolution in this regard. The president congratulated the government and the opposition for the unanimous passage of the 18th and 19th constitutional amendments and the NFC Award. He reminded the House that when the PPP-led government took charge, there was “an ailing economy, rising militancy, and growing extremism”. He agreed that three years “is a long enough period to demonstrate progress” and said that the government has “brought the economy back on track”. President Zardari outlined the future plans of the government to help the economy, which include “reduction in non-development expenditure to cut expenses, reforms in power sector, restructuring of public sector enterprises, incentivising remittances and special programmes for poverty alleviation”. Even though such measures sound good, the real test lies in their implementation. Investment in Pakistan, both local and foreign, is extremely low. The energy crisis is getting worse with each passing day. Inflation keeps rising while the poor keep getting poorer.

The president lauded the government for giving rights to the labour class by increasing the minimum wage from Rs 4,600 to Rs 7,000 per month. Even though the workers have the right to “seek legal remedies against dismissal” as mentioned by the president, we see the majority of workers, especially in the private sector, yet to receive the new minimum wage and being laid off without prior notice. President Zardari reiterated that education is not “a privilege, but a basic right” after the passage of the 18th Amendment and that 2011 has been declared as the “Year of Education” in Pakistan. It was good to see the president condemning the brutal assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. He pledged to “avenge the martyrdom of these heroes of democracy by defeating the mindset that preaches violence and hatred”. At least someone in the PPP has finally found the guts to denounce those murders and remember the sacrifices of Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti.

The president outlined the plans for the remaining two years of this government’s tenure and assured the House that the government will overcome the hurdles in Pakistan’s progress. The president urged politicians to avoid political point-scoring and asked them to come together as divisions amongst politicians weaken democracy. He invited all political parties for a national dialogue. Pakistan needs democracy more than ever now in the face of all the challenges we face. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Balochistan mine tragedy

The tragedy that has unfolded at the Sorrange mine in southwest Balochistan is a glaring — and heartbreaking — reminder of just how dispensable human life has become in Pakistan. Three mega explosions tore through the mine because of the presence of large amounts of methane gas and little to no ventilation. There were some 50 miners inside when the blasts occurred; now there is the same number of dead bodies. What is worse is the fact that this horrific incident could have been prevented. The mine belonged to the Pakistan Mineral and Development Corporation (PMDC) and had been leased to a contractor. The contractor had been issued warnings some two weeks before to shut the mine down as there was a high level of methane gas accumulation in the mine. However, these warnings were not heeded and the PMDC and their contractor now have the blood of 50 Pakistani miners on their hands.

Juxtapose this horrific incident with the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for some 64 days in a mine in northern Chile a few months back. No effort was spared and no resource was left unused to rescue the men. At the end of the day those miners and the Chilean nation at large were made to feel as though they mattered to their government, to their country and to the world. On the other hand, these 50 miners were left to endanger their lives by working in perilous conditions, conditions that were known as being deadly to the concerned authorities. People in Pakistan are made to feel like worthless scum and the cost of a life does not even warrant concern.

A thorough judicial inquiry must be made to determine exactly how deep in recklessness and irresponsibility the PMDC really is. If it was known to any official that the mine was dangerous yet still operating, they must be hauled in by the courts along with the heartless contractor who, reportedly, took no action. This is not the first instance of this kind. The coal mines of Balochistan regularly take a toll of human lives because safety standards are conspicuous by their absence. After every accident of this nature, ritual inquiries are announced, which never see the light of day, let alone lead to remedial measures. It is of paramount importance that these mines be modernised and safety regulations be implemented and respected. At the same time, an inquiry under a judge of the Balochistan High Court should be ordered, responsibility fixed, and punishment meted out under the law as a deterrent to the repetition of such all too frequent tragedies. *

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