Laudable Saudi move
COMING at the end of a year that has held quite a few shocks for Pakistani diplomacy, the news that Saudi Arabia is planning to convene a meeting of Muslim foreign ministers exclusively on the Kashmir issue deserves to be welcomed.
But some of the diplomatic jolts need to be recalled.
In March, the UAE invited the Indian external affairs minister to a meeting of foreign ministers of the OIC, without considering the opinion of Pakistan, an OIC founding member. Then following Aug 5, when India’s Hindutva government headed by Narendra Modi abrogated the special status of India-held Kashmir, there was no criticism of the move from the Arab side; those who condemned it included Malaysia and Turkey.
While the Arab stance reflected adversely on the acumen of Pakistan’s diplomats, it also underlined the cumulative mindset the Arab world has developed towards Muslims from other parts of the world. This mindset is one of indifference towards non-Arab Muslims even when they are victims of state brutality, as in occupied Kashmir and Myanmar.
Islamabad’s grief over Riyadh’s passivity was the greater because of the esteem in which Pakistan holds the Saudi leadership which is regarded as the Guardian of the Two Holy Places. For that reason, Riyadh’s reaction to Mr Modi’s criminality came as a blow to Pakistanis. The media quoted official Saudi sources as saying that Riyadh wanted “the concerned parties in Jammu and Kashmir to maintain peace, and take into account the interests of the people of the region”. Noting that Saudi Arabia was following “the current situation” in Jammu and Kashmir, it called for “a peaceful settlement in accordance with the international resolutions”.
While Riyadh, thus, walked a tightrope, Dubai’s response did it no credit whatsoever, for it said that Mr Modi’s Aug 5 action was “not a unique incident” in India’s history and that it was that country’s “internal matter”.
Against this background, the report that Saudi Arabia intends to call an OIC foreign ministers’ moot devoted exclusively to Kashmir comes as a breath of fresh air.
This can be called the most positive outcome of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan’s one-day visit to Islamabad.
The Saudi initiative could be interpreted in two ways: either it is a move to placate Pakistan, especially after Riyadh put pressure on Islamabad to distance itself from the Kuala Lumpur Summit, or it shows a genuine Saudi interest in the plight of the Kashmiris who early next week will complete five months of the lockdown in their homeland which has been described as “an open-air prison”.
No date or venue has yet been notified for the planned OIC conference, but let us hope it is held at the earliest and that Qatar and Iran — both Saudi rivals — are also, as they should be, invited to make it a proper gathering of Muslim countries.
Power tariff hikes
THE decision by Nepra, the power-sector regulator, to apply yet another hike in the price of power is a reminder that the pricing regime in the power sector is in dire need of reform, and more importantly, the right kind of reform. The wrong kind of reform would simply allow all accumulated costs of the inefficiency and lack of competence witnessed in public-sector power distribution companies to simply be passed on to the consumers through some sort of automatic price adjustment. The right kind of reform would structure the incentives for all operators in the power sector — from generators to distribution companies — to compete for the best kind of energy and serve up some top-notch products to their customers. At the moment, what we have is a system where the power tariff is notified by the government and the fuel cost is allowed to be passed through directly by Nepra.
In the most recent case, Nepra has allowed an increase of Rs1.56 per unit through the fuel cost adjustment only for the month of October. So far, this is fairly standard fare, though there is no doubt that the impact on people’s bills will be substantial. It is standard fare because the fuel cost is, in the parlance of the power sector, a ‘pass through item’, meaning it is one of those elements in the cost build-up of electricity that is directly passed on to the consumers. Since one quarter of the power that was generated in October was from imported LNG, the higher cost of this fuel compared to that of local gas or hydel power would pass through automatically. The result is that an additional Rs14bn will be raised through bills to be issued next month. This is normal practice in our power system and such monthly fuel cost adjustments happen all the time. But the thing to note is the sheer inefficiency within this system. Electricity is a product that is bought and sold in milliseconds, and monthly fuel cost adjustments or quarterly tariff adjustments, or even line item breakdowns in the cost, sounds like an antiquated system today, as the second decade of the 21st century approaches its end. At this point in time, the government has embarked on a far-reaching power sector reform plan that includes pricing reform as well as potential privatisation. This is also the time to implement the right kind of pricing reform.
Age of superstition
AS people from around the world tried to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse, some families in Karachi made their way to the coastline in the early hours of Thursday. They believed the rare astronomical occurrence held curative powers for their loved ones who suffered from disabilities. In the newspapers, photographs of children with disabilities buried in sand up to their necks, as parents looked on and comforted them, only highlighted the desperation of a people trying to find meaning in their suffering and clutching on to whatever hope they could find in a world that often seems out of their control. Similar accounts of children with disabilities being buried neck-deep in sand during the solar eclipse were reported in India. Despite scientific advancements and greater understanding of mental and physical impairments, many in South Asia continue to be governed by superstition and take advice from fake spiritual healers masquerading as divine middlemen on earth. A great deal of cruelty is inflicted on those who fall out of the norms of conformist societies in the name of curing them. For instance, in September, a five-year-old child was hospitalised after being beaten by a spiritual healer in Sargodha. The boy’s mother had taken him to the ‘pir’, hoping he would expel the jinns she believed possessed her son. Earlier, in June, another ‘pir’ in Sheikhupura was arrested after raping a woman who had approached him to remove what she imagined was a curse.
Unfortunately, scientific thinking has not taken root in our societies, and it continues to be one of the most neglected disciplines in the country. There is a distressing lack of curiosity and attempts at trying to understand and study the world and natural phenomena as it is, without muddying it with ideology. After all, this is a country where a nuclear engineer once proposed ‘harnessing the power of jinns’ to solve Pakistan’s energy crisis. Regrettably, instead of demanding evidence, we look for easy answers.