ECP verdict on deseating – 13 May 2022

Notable is the fact that despite claims about bribes, the PTI has offered no evidence to support this claim

In a decision that was widely expected, the ECP has rejected PTI references seeking deseating of its 20 dissident MNAs. Also unsurprising was the fact that the PTI will challenge the ruling, as is their right.

Surprising, however, was how party leaders and supporters continued to direct vitriol at Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, accusing him of being sympathetic to the PML-N, even though the only reason Raja has the job is that former prime minister Imran Khan picked him. Then again, the only reason Imran is a former PM is also the dissidents he gave tickets to. So perhaps this is a veiled admission of the party chief’s poor judgement of character.

The requirement for MNAs to face dismissal for ‘voting their conscience’ instead of following the party line is anti-democratic at worst and problematic at the very least — elected officials should be duty-bound to their constituents, not their party leaders. Unfortunately, the law does not clearly differentiate between defection and a vote of conscience by someone who is otherwise loyal to their party. However, while the law is not about to change because it serves the interests of party chiefs, it is interesting that the ECP appears to have agreed with the accused lawmakers that PTI had failed to follow the rather simple procedure for their removal.

Similar problems are also expected in the PTI’s reference against its Punjab MPAs, as some procedural steps, such as waiting for the MPAs to reply to show-cause notices, appear to have been skipped. This, coupled with the PTI’s repeated sagas over resigning from assemblies, has many analysts wondering if these are just tricks to inspire the base.

Also notable is the fact that despite tall claims about the lawmakers having been bribed to break from the party line, the PTI has offered no evidence to support this claim of outright criminal conduct. At the same time, the party has not really done much to refute accusations from the accused lawmakers and disgruntled former party workers regarding the incompetence and corruption of the PTI government. The Supreme Court has also brought up the exchange of accusations while hearing a case on the application of Article 63-A.

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Justice in Bhong case – 13 May 2022

The decision has come close on the heels of Priyantha Kumara’s landmark judgment against his unfortunate lynching

Justice was well-dispensed as the Rahim Yar Khan temple vandalisers were brought to book. An Anti-Terrorism Court on Thursday handed down five-year jail term with fine to each of the 22 accused in the Bhong temple attack case. The accused, on August 4, 2021, had attacked Ghanesh Mandir in Rahim Yar Khan district and ransacked its premises. It was a judicious and well-prosecuted affair, wherein the judicial arm and its affiliates, including the police and legal bureaucracy, kept their heads high as they crisscrossed through a sensitive investigation to clear the wheat from chaff. That 22 of them were zoomed in from more than 60 arrested establishes the merit of probe and sensible judgment. The rest were set free getting the benefit of the doubt. This is a welcome development and will go a long way in establishing the writ of the state and the rule of law, and nip in the bud elements who believe in politics of hate and marginalisation with minorities.

The Bhong decision has come close on the heels of Priyantha Kumara’s landmark judgment against his unfortunate lynching in Sialkot. Such recourse to law is desired, and is the only way out to deter people who obsessively indulge in highhandedness against minorities and the downtrodden, and opt for refuge in the guise of blasphemy laws. It is, however, good to see that the judiciary and the respective administrations are in a proactive mode these days, and it reflects the determination of political governments to tackle this tendency of extremism head-on.

Pakistan is a pluralistic society and one that believes in emancipation and a rational approach. Of course, there are wayward elements too who opt for jingoism while translating their narrative of otherness. This phenomenon should be dealt with strictly, and the best course is to establish the rule of law and take to task people who go on to vandalise public property and penalise the weaker sections of society. Prompt prosecution and decisions in real time will buoy the confidence of the masses in the state system and scare off unscrupulous elements from exhibiting radicalism.

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The pandemic’s excess mortality rates – 13 May 2022

WHO Covid-19 mortality assessment focusing on a time period of two years is 14.91 million

The Covid-19 pandemic is not yet over. Many countries around the world, including Pakistan, are now reporting new cases of the highly infectious even if less deadly Omicron sub-variant. Despite all the efforts being made to track this still unfolding pandemic, there is an evident discrepancy concerning the number of deaths which have been caused by it.

The World Health Organization has just released a comprehensive assessment of global deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which are far higher than earlier official estimates. The WHO has used the notion of ‘excess mortality’ for its latest estimation. Excess mortality is defined as the difference between the total number of global deaths and the number of deaths that would have been expected if there had been no pandemic.

The excess mortality rate includes deaths attributed directly to Covid-19 that were reported to the WHO by individual countries, as well as deaths attributable directly to Covid-19 which were either not counted, or else, were not reported to the WHO. The WHO’s latest estimation tries to not only include unreported deaths caused by Covid-19, but also deaths triggered by underlying medical conditions complicated by the pandemic, as well as deaths caused due to other health problems that remain untreated due to the pandemic. The WHO’s latest estimation even takes account of deaths which did not occur because of Covid-19 restrictions, such as reduced traffic accidents, or due to lesser prevalence of infectious diseases as a byproduct of social mobility restrictions.

This new WHO Covid-19 mortality assessment focusing on a time period of two years (from January 2020 to December 2021) is 14.91 million. This number implies that there is a nearly three times higher Covid-19 related death toll than was earlier reported.

Pakistan and India are amongst 20 countries where over 80% of the estimated global excess mortality occurred. However, Pakistan is not in the list of the top 10 countries where approximately 68% of the excess deaths took place. This latter list includes populous mid-income countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia as well as more powerful ones, such as Russia and the US. In the US alone, the pandemic has caused nearly a million deaths.

Pakistan has been touting its Covid-19 response, and it also won international praise for its swift and nuanced approach in contending with the pandemic despite its meager resources. To date, Pakistan has reported around 30,000 deaths to the WHO. Yet, this latest WHO estimation indicates that the actual mortality figures for the country are eight times higher.

The situation in India is even more alarming. The Indian government reported around 481,000 Covid-19 related deaths till the end of 2021, whereas the WHO estimates that 4.7 million Indians have died due to the pandemic during this same period. The Indian government is trying hard to contest the WHO estimates, which is understandable given that India has been singled out as the country where nearly a third of the Covid-19 related excess deaths are said to have taken place.

While powerful countries like Russia and the US have also not been able to accurately track Covid-19 related deaths, this latest WHO assessment relevels that the pandemic’s true impact has still been borne by poorer countries. Nearly 8 million additional people have died in lower-middle-income nations than had been previously estimated.

The scale, scope and speed of the Covid-19 pandemic came as a big surprise for the whole world. Despite all the efforts taken to monitor the pandemic, national estimations seemed to have been way off the mark. This wide gap between the pandemic’s excess mortality rates and earlier reported mortality rates reflects not only a lack of capacity to collect mortality data but perhaps an intentional effort to obscure the actual toll of the pandemic. The evident inability and unwillingness of national authorities to accurately monitor the pandemic is troubling news. The WHO’s Assistant Director General responsible for data and analytics has rightly pointed out that undercounting the scale of the pandemic will lead to an underestimation and underinvestment in building mechanisms and capabilities needed to mitigate against future pandemics.

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Man kills six suspects to avenge robbery – 13 May 2022

NAROWAL: An overseas Pakistani`s son claims to have shot dead six alleged robbers who took away valuables from their house more than a month ago and remained at large.

The Noorkot police registered a case of the killing of six people on the report of SHO Inspector Muhammad Arif against Osama Younis, son of Muhammad Younis, and an accomplice.

The FIR states that police had received a call on 15 and Muhammad Javed told them that he was standing outside his outhouse when Osama Younis, son of Muhammad Younis, who resides abroad, and an unidentified person on a motorcycle came to him and Osama told him that they had shot dead the robbers who targeted his house a month and a half ago.

A heavy contingent of police responded to the call and cordoned off the area near the Noorkot railway station.

SHO Muhammad Arif said one of the persons killed in the firing had been identified as Muhammad Ashraf Khan, a resident of Shakargarh tehsil`s Mandilchel area. He said all those killed in the firing were members of an interdistrict robbers` gang.

Investigation and forensic teams of the Noorkot police obtained evidence from the place of incident.

Younis had come to Pakistan on holiday from abroad and on the night of March 30, seven robbers broke through the outer wall of his house and held up the family. The robbers tortured the family members and looted 45 tolas of gold jewellery, Rs550,000 and other valuables.

The Shah Garib police registered a case against the suspects on the complaint of Younis. The complainant claimed that he visited the offices of the Narowal DPO and the Shakargarh DSP but police failed to arrest the robbers. The Narowal police said 13 cases had been registered against Ashraf Khan between 2011 and 2015.

Aitzaz Bashir, spokesman for the district police, said Osama Younis and Ashraf were friends. He said Osama suspected that Ashraf and his accomplices had targeted his house. He said the other five were yet to be identified.

IGP Rao Sardar Ali Khan has taken notice of the incident and sought a report from the regional police officer of Gujranwala. He ordered that special raiding teams should be formed to arrest of killers saying no one would be allowed to take law into his hands.

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Man kills sister-in-law over delay in cooking food – 13 May 2022

SUKKUR: A man shot dead his sister-in-law reportedly on the pretext of delay in preparing meals in Jahan Shah locality on the outskirt of Jacobabad on Thursday.

Atta Mohammad Lahar flew into a rage over belated preparation of meal and opened fire on his sister-in-law Nazeeran, wife of Sobdar Lahar, said relatives, adding he managed to escape after committing the crime.

Police removed the body of the slain woman to Jacobabad Civil Hospital where doctors conducted post mortem on it and handed it over to relatives.

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Police told to produce Nimra as mother approaches SHC for marriage annulment – 13 May 2022

Karachi: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday issued notices to the Sindh inspector general of police (IGP), District East SSP and other respondents on a petition for the recovery of Nimra Kazmi, a girl who went missing from the Malir area and then found to have married a man in Punjab of her own free will, and the cancellation of her marriage under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act.

The petitioner, Nargis, said her daughter Nimra went missing after leaving the house on April 20 and a kidnapping case was registered after her disappearance. The mother submitted that her daughter was not adult and the police had failed to file a charge sheet with regard to the kidnapping of her daughter despite knowing the fact that she had been in the custody of a man, Najeeb Shahrukh, a resident of Taunsa Sharif.

Nargis said that her daughter during her confinement at Shahrukh’s house had claimed to have married him but she seemed to be afraid and under pressure.

The petitioner said Nimra was below 18 years and she belonged to the Shia sect, so her marriage without a Wali and under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act was void and ab initio.

She submitted that the law did not permit marriage with a minor; therefore, Shahrukh, the Nikahkhawan and witnesses may be prosecuted under the Sharia and penal laws. She said that Nimra was 14 years old, which was also certified in the National Database and Registration Authority’s certificate as well as her education record.

The petitioner said that to ensure the welfare of the minor, the court must secure her presence and order that she be returned to her parents from the house of Shahrukh.

A division bench of the SHC, headed by Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro, issued notices to the IGP, home department, the SSP East and others, and called their comments on May 20. The court also directed the SSP East to ensure the presence of Nimra before the court on the next hearing.

Appeals dismissed

The Sindh High Court on Thursday dismissed the appeals of four convicts against their life imprisonment sentence in a kidnapping for ransom case.

Ali Akbar, Naeem, Mukhtar Ahmed, Roohullah were sentenced to life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court for kidnapping a citizen for ransom and receiving Rs10.15 million for his release.

According to the prosecution, the appellants had abducted Raheel Alam in Gulistan-e-Johar on February 6, 2018, and demanded Rs350 million for his release. Later, the ransom amount was lowered to Rs10 million after negotiations.

Police arrested the kidnappers, recovered the ransom money from their possession, and rescued the citizen, who had been in captivity for 115 days.

The appellants’ counsel submitted that Ali Akbar and Naeem were not assigned any specific roles by the prosecution nor had the abductee been able to assign them any role in the kidnapping before trial court. They said nothing was brought on record that ransom was paid to the appellants for the release of abductee, while the money was paid by the appellants to the police, which was then foisted upon them while being labelled as ransom money. Besides, no identification parade was conducted through the abductee, the counsel said and sought acquittals of the appellants for want of evidence.

The additional prosecutor general submitted that the ocular account furnished by the abductee himself was fully corroborated and supported the impugned judgment. He requested the court to dismiss the appeals.

A division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha and Justice Khadim Hussain Tunio, after hearing the arguments of the case, observed that witnesses, the abductee and the complainant of the case were put through drawn out cross-examination at the trial court, but the defence were unable to point out any major discrepancies that may be fatal to the prosecution case.

The court observed that the identification parade was conducted while following all guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court and there were no legal defects in the identification parade. The court dismissed the appeals of the convicts and maintained the life imprisonment sentence and other convictions under the anti-terrorism law.

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Enhanced vigilance – 12 May 2022

WITH the confirmation of the first case of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 in Pakistan and the government`s advice to take precautionary measures, the health aut horit ies should immediately launch another nationwide vaccination campaign and revive the recently abolished airport Covid-19 protocols. The National Institute of Health, which, after the NCOC was wound up, is heading national anti-Covid efforts, first announced the detection of the BA2 variant on May 8 in a passenger who had flown in from abroad last month and, three days later, was tested for Covid-19. subsequently, it was confirmed that he was infected with the new variant of the infection. Few details were given about the vaccination status of the infected traveller, but the circumstances clearly point to some glaring gaps in the monitoring of incoming passengers at our airports. Even at the height of the pandemic, it was observed that not all arriving passengers would be administered rapid antigen tests at the airport. Given the global situation, plus the near normalisation of travel and everyday activities in this country, one would expect airport authorities to ensure rapid antigen testing for thousands of incoming travellers.

Apart from tightening airport protocols, the government should also launch another campaign for initial vaccinations and a second round of booster doses. For its part, the WHO has advised against a strategy of relying on repeated booster doses, stating it to be `not viable` and calling for the development of newer vaccines that promise better protection against the newer strains of the virus.

But experts in many countries, including the US, are encouraging the public to receive a second or third booster dose, till such time a new alternative is available for enhanced protection against the sneaky and increasingly transmissible variants of the coronavirus.

Pakistan too can rely on vaccines and booster shots to expand vaccination coverage. Even if they offer limited protection, it is better than having no immunity at all against the virus. Meanwhile, the authorities should be prepared to call for masking and social distancing if matters worsen.

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Recurring disasters – 12 May 2022

THE recent disaster on Shisper Glacier in Hunza Valley should not have come as a shock to the Disaster Management Authority in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Rising temperature and accelerated melting go hand in hand. Pakistan is home to the largest and densest collection of glaciers outside the polar region. This vast reservoir of frozen water is a valuable resource but it can also turn into a looming threat that can unleash hydro-meteorological disasters of mega proportions. This can range from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) to glacier bursts, and riverine to flash floods and landslides.

A glacier burst is different from GLOF.

Under this phenomenon, water accumulates under the terminus of the glacier and is not visible. Once the glacier bursts it can Ellup again and pose a recurringthreat of varying intensity. This is the fourth time the Shisper Glacier has burst. The last two occurrences were in February and June 2020. The GB government has been monitoring the glacier and usingits resources to take precautionary measures. But this time, the volume of water and its velocity were fierce and caused more damage than ever before. The most likely cause is the latest heatwave that triggered accelerated melting, resulting in a sudden increase in the meltwater volume.

Heatwaves, changes in precipitation and hydrological imbalances will be the new normal. Scientific modelling of cryospheric behaviour in the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains project accelerated melting till 2040 (floods) and reduced snow/ glacier melt/ run-off after that (reduced water flows). Both scenarios are fraught with risks and must be addressed using the best available knowledge and science to prepare an anticipatory adaptation plan that can help mitigate losses.

Pakistan received $4 million from the Adaptation Fund and UNDP (2011-2015) to address GLOF-related disasters. This was utilised to address threats from glacial lakes in Bagrot (GB) and Golain (Chitral).

The second funding of $37m from the Green Climate Fund (2017-2024) was designed to address nine GLOF projects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 16 in Gilgit-Baltistan. In GB, seven projects were completed in the first phase and an agreement to start work on the remaining nine has just been signed.

However, Shisper is not a GLOF event and its massive burst this year should ring alarm bells. Altogether there are more than 3,000 glacial lakes in Pakistan of which 33 are ranked as high risk and can burst at any time. Similarly, we have 7,253 glaciers of varying lengths and density but have little knowledge about their behaviour andresponse to climate change. This means more Shisper-like events can happen.

It is not just ironic but potentially dangerous to have such a vast cryopheric space without the capacity for research and monitoring, and not possess the tools for analytical risk assessment to relate the level of risk with preparedness. This knowledge deficit and lack of scientific application in planning, result in delays and ill-conceived projects that don`t always meet the technical criteria for designing effective engineering solutions for mitigation.

The National Disaster Risk Management Fund has been unable to fully utilise the $128m that was made available to it by the World Bank in 2020 for ecosystem restoration and $60m for enhancing hydro-meteorological capability. We bemoan our fate as a low emitter and being high on the vulnerability index but do little to show capacity for effective utilization and efficient service delivery when funds are made available to address priority challenges.

After the release of the IPCC`s SixthAssessment Report, it should be clear to everybody that climate change impacts are going to overtake our lives and exacerbate existing vulnerabilities manifold. In Pakistan, hydro-met disasterswillincrease in frequency andintensity. The Ministry of Climate Change needs toresetits agendaandfocusonadaptation to reduce vulnerability. The best way to fast-track momentum is to operationalise the Climate Act 2017 and call for a meeting of the Council to identify priority concerns and devise a realistic action plan for implementation.

The ministry also needs to accelerate workoncompletingtheNationalAdaptation Plan and prepare a strategy for coping with multidimensional threats. The climate crisis will spiral out of control as the planet continues to warm and the greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere play out the uncertain impact of this dangerous accumulation.

It is time to increase the budget of the Ministry of Climate Change, equip it with technical human resource and strengthen its capacityforfacilitating the provinces to meet their mitigation and adaptation goals and accessing finance and technology. We are running out of time and must act now. • The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.

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