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Pakistan Press ( 9 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press on Criminalising Poverty in Pakistan and Biden's Presidency: New Age Islam's Selection, 9 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

9 November 2020

• Criminalising Poverty In Pakistan

By Madeeha Ansari

• Wonderful Multan

By Kamal Siddiqi

• Five Takeaways For Pakistan Under Biden’s Presidency

By Kamran Yousaf

• Post-Trump US Foreign Policy

By Maleeha Lodhi


Criminalising Poverty In Pakistan

By Madeeha Ansari

09 Nov 2020

Six out of the top ten major cities in Pakistan have double-digit poverty figures.


A NEPALESE colleague once shared the impact of a well-intentioned government rehabilitation programme for street-connected children. The plan was to take them off the streets and provide protection facilities where basic needs would be addressed — and local NGOs like his were approached for support.

What ended up happening was a crisis of trust. Children would wait, he said, for staff who gave them up to the authorities with “blades hidden in their teeth”, to evade capture.

Nor would they stay in the facilities once enrolled. Children used to independence, even when ostensibly provided with food and shelter, would not be convinced they belonged there. A lot of it was to do with the stigma they had faced, being labelled as lazy, criminal, a public nuisance. But it was also based on the fact that initially top-down policies didn’t adequately consult the real stakeholders.

In Pakistan, there are two trends of concern when it comes to street-connected children. On one hand there is danger of the same story of good intentions being repeated without adequate consultation with children and their families. Secondly, there is a move towards criminalising children for being on the streets, echoed in both public conversation and policy domains. ‘Criminalise child beggary’ is a refrain. What this will effectively mean without addressing the roots of the issues that push children onto the streets is that households and children in extreme urban poverty will be subject to both harassment and criminalisation, for being poor.

Children on the streets do not have just one story.

With a government that has demonstrated a commitment to protecting street children, we would do well to look at what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere, so that resources are used most effectively. One big first step for the government and the public is to re-examine the lens and language with which we approach children on the streets, and challenge the stereotypes that may misguide our efforts.

For instance, the dominant public narrative is that street children are victims controlled by invisible gangs or ‘mafias’. While this may be true in some cases, street children do not have a single story. They come from diverse backgrounds, including migrant, displaced or Afghan refugee communities. Some may be unaccompanied without access to shelter, but the majority have families to return to and support. In our work, we often come across children who work around school timings to earn. These multiple identities are important to acknowledge, so we can build human stories and understand what greater structural or policy factors drive children to the streets — and how to support them to choose different paths.

At the public level, the language that treats street children as a ‘menace’ creates stigma translating into a less than empathetic approach. ‘Why don’t you work?’ is often a question asked while brushing children off. There is increasing concern expressed on social media that the phenomenon of street children is rising. ‘This is easy money’ is a common response. The truth is, there is no ‘easy money’ unless you’re rich. In a Covid-19 economy with skyrocketing prices and rising unemployment, more and more households are being pushed into making difficult choices.

At the government level, the drive to rid the streets of this ‘menace’ can translate into policies focusing on physical removal of children from the streets, which in the long run may not be sustainable. In Punjab, there has been a wide-scale anti-beggary crackdown, with over 700 children being removed in rescue operations in a single month. While the effort to take positive action is commendable, it won’t address those root causes. In addition, it is a question of human rights for children and their families to be consulted in decisions concerning them. In particular, any enrolment in residential facilities has to be voluntary, now or later.

Worryingly, with the new criminalisation drives, FIRs are being registered against parents. The experience of being taken from the streets by police can in itself be traumatic for street-connected children, as traditionally they are wary of law enforcement agencies. Many belong to informal settlements under threat by the authorities, and those without identification documents are particularly vulnerable. If we add to this the threat of parents being taken to jail, it will deepen the mistrust that children and communities have in the system.

This is not a defence of child labour, or ‘child beggary’. It is simply an appeal to look deeper at our own assumptions. To design responses that account for the nature and scale of the challenges, it will take this: counting the uncounted; seeing the ‘invisible’; and listening to the voices of the unheard. If we really do care, we should be willing to reach out to children and their communities, and engage them in ways that acknowledge their agency and human dignity.


Madeeha Ansari is founder of Cities for Children, a non-profit that focuses on street-connected children.


Wonderful Multan

By Kamal Siddiqi

November 08, 2020

It is always a treat to travel across Pakistan, especially as winter months approach and we can travel to all those places which are otherwise too warm to enjoy. One must do this overland as it is only then we can fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of our country and the hard work and effort put in by people in different parts to better themselves and their surroundings.

Amongst the cities I visited this month include the City of Saints, Multan. I consider Multan to be mid-way between Karachi and Lahore and a convenient stop if one is travelling overland. But one cannot do justice to such a city with an overnight stay — there is much to offer and much to observe.

The last time I visited Multan was five years ago. Even then I was impressed with the dynamics of the city. It was said that much of the development work then had been carried out at the behest of prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani who served in this capacity from 2008 to 2012. One could see the new network of infrastructure which included roads and flyovers, a functional and modern airport terminal, the mushrooming businesses and overall economic activity. Brand names were coming to Multan. But there was also investment in health and education.

At that time, my friend and fellow journalist Jamshed Rizwani took me not only to the different shrines that the city is blessed with but also to a pictorial museum of sorts where the history of the city is catalogued. I was impressed by the architecture and preservations of many buildings including the Children’s Hospital and the former municipal committee head office.

This time round, the city showed me much more. Driving from Karachi, Multan is now served by an excellent motorway that connects it to Sukkur on one end and to Lahore, Islamabad and beyond on the other. When one enters the city (there are at least four entry points — many of them named with much thought like the Shah Shams Tabrez interchange and the Shah Rukn-e-Alam interchange), the first thing to note is the city roads are in very good condition and traffic is moving. Jamshed credits this to the Commissioner Multan and other district management officials.

Whoever has made this happen, I can only appreciate their work. Gone are the heaps of garbage and the encroachments one would see in some parts of the city. It has been over eight years since Gillani was PM, but what we see is that the city continues to progress and develop by leaps and bounds.

But most impressive for me was the Multan Metrobus System, similar to the one seen in Lahore and Islamabad. It has helped ease congestion and made life easier for people in this city as the bus route snakes through one end of the city to another.

Despite its dry and dusty weather, efforts have been made to plant trees and make the city greener. One of the best places to visit would be the Bahauddin Zakariyya University which is located at one end of the city and its sprawling and green campus only makes one wonder where we went wrong with Karachi University.

In fact, one wonders in many ways about Karachi and about Sindh as compared to Multan. Four hours from Multan is Sukkur and further down is Hyderabad. Both cities, though with their own advantages to offer, do not compare to the infrastructure and facilities that Multan has to offer.

What is ironic is that Gillani was a PPP prime minister. And yet he achieved so much in such little time. But to be honest to him and others that came after him to public office, many others also played their part.

Multan has a functional healthcare system. But it also has the Mukhtar Sheikh Hospital which is touted as the Aga Khan Hospital of South Punjab. There are other such similar initiatives in the private and public sector. It has three hotels of good standing — Hyderabad and Sukkur have none. The list goes on.

All this makes one wonder where Sindh has gone wrong. It is easy to point fingers, harder to think critically. Why has Punjab done so well and why is Sindh lacking?


Five Takeaways For Pakistan Under Biden’s Presidency

By Kamran Yousaf

November 08, 2020

Former US vice-president and Democrat candidate Joe Biden is on course to win the hotly contested presidential election as these line are being written. He has broken all records of bagging votes in the US election history. Biden is no novice to US politics. He has been around since 1972. He has served the US Senate for many decades and remained chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden served as deputy to president Barrack Obama for eight long years. He also has connections with Pakistan. In 2008, when the Obama administration tabled a Kerry-Lugar Bill that sought to triple non-military aid to Pakistan, Biden was co-author of the legislation. There are at least five major takeaways for Pakistan under the Biden’s presidency.

1. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he has visited the region quite often, knowing Pakistan and geostrategic complexities quite well. This can work both as an advantage and disadvantage to Pakistan. Democrats traditionally have been strong advocates of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. Under Biden, there will certainly be more emphasis on these issues. The other factor that can play a major role in shaping Biden’s policy towards Pakistan and South Asia is that he is well versed with the region and has even known Pakistani politicians. Unlike Trump, Biden’s presidency would certainly bring the State Department and other institutions into the limelight when it comes to policy on South Asia.

2. President Trump and Biden may not have much difference in terms of their policy on Afghanistan. But if we go into details, Biden will — unlike Trump — seek an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. He will not hasten the troop pullout, something Pakistan and other regional players have advised against. Any hasty withdrawal may potentially trigger another wave of civil war in Afghanistan. Biden in all probability will resist such a scenario.

3. Since his deputy Kamala Harris has already spoken against Modi government’s anti-Muslim policies and human rights violations in Kashmir, the US under Biden will be more critical of Indian policies on Kashmir. However, it will not go to the extent of antagonising New Delhi as it will need Indian support to contain China. Biden, knowing the dynamics of Indo-Pak ties well, may encourage both sides from behind the scenes to re-engage.

4. There is a bipartisan consensus in the US on China. However, Biden may lower the rhetoric and be more predictable. He will rally around the US allies against China. Pakistan is a strategic partner of China and hence has to deal with the fallout of Biden’s China policy. But any lowering of tensions between the superpower and the emerging global power will positively impact Pakistan.

5. Biden is keen to revive the Iranian nuclear deal, which Trump scrapped after coming into power. The revival of the deal makes matters easier for Pakistan as increased tensions between Iran and the US only compounded Pakistan’s regional problems. Similarly, Biden will likely reset ties with Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia. Observers believe that Saudi rulers won’t enjoy the same freedom as they did during Trump’s tenure. This may also impact Pakistan.

But before Biden gets down to scramble through all these intricate foreign policy issues, his first job surely is to put things in order at home. Dealing with Covid-19 and avoiding a potential fallout of Trump not conceding defeat will be his top priority. The relationship between Pakistan and the US, nevertheless, remains transactional. Afghanistan will remain the centre stage of their engagement. The challenge for Pakistan is to create other avenues that allow the US to see its relationship beyond the security prism.


Post-Trump US Foreign Policy

By Maleeha Lodhi

09 Nov 2020

NEVER have Americans seen an election in their recent history quite like the 2020 presidential contest. Never has the world watched with such concern the political tensions, bitter rhetoric and legal fights that marked the turbulent run-up to the election. The close race kept people on edge for days following the election as votes were counted in the crucial battlefield states.

The American people chose Joe Biden to lead their country in what has been described as ‘an election of a lifetime’ which will have “decade-defining consequences”. This has come as a relief to many people in America and beyond. For the international community the overarching question is how the new occupant of the White House will change American foreign policy in the post-Trump era.

To begin with, Biden will be preoccupied with managing domestic challenges with the pandemic still wreaking havoc across the country, polarisation undermining national cohesion and racial tensions waiting to be seriously addressed. Uniting a deeply divided country will undoubtedly be his first order of business. As he reiterated after the election: “I will govern as an American president. There will be no red states and blue states. Just the United States of America.”

The outcome of the Congressional election too will present a challenge as the Senate is likely to remain in Republican control. This will pose formidable problems of divided government and legislative gridlock. Biden will be obliged to deal with an unfriendly Senate which will make governance difficult while his pledge to heal a divided nation will require vigorous efforts. As an op-ed writer asserted in the New York Times, the election will not resolve “America’s deepest problems” — social crisis, breakdown of political culture, and feelings of exclusion. That Trump got more popular votes now than in 2016 indicates how widespread support remains for ‘Trumpism’. If Trump continues to play an active political role this could further complicate Biden’s task. Domestic troubles then will warrant his sustained attention.

Biden will depart in fundamental ways from Trump’s erratic and unpredictable policies.

But as a course correction is also needed in America’s relations with the world this will not wait for the domestic agenda to be tackled. Some argue that this is where Biden may have a less constrained hand. What then is a Biden presidency likely to do? The selection of his foreign policy team will be an early pointer to the foreign policy he will pursue.

As someone with rich experience in foreign policy — having long served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and as vice president — Biden is expected to follow a more traditional approach fundamentally different from Trump’s unpredictable and whimsical policies pursued at great detriment to America’s global standing. In contrast to Trump’s intensely unilateral ‘America First’ policy, Biden, known as a liberal internationalist, would seek to restore his country’s multilateralist credentials. During the campaign he declared that the ‘America First’ policy had resulted in ‘America Alone’ and he would seek to ‘restore America’s leadership’.

In broad brush terms a Biden administration is likely to see: the revival of a more stable foreign policy, renewal of commitment to multilateralism, reaffirmation of relations with allies, reversal of Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal, re-engagement with key international institutions, return to the Paris climate agreement and recommitment to alliances especially Nato.

A key priority for Biden will also be to mend America’s damaged international reputation evidenced in several surveys. A recent Pew Research survey found that America’s global image had plunged to an all-time low. It showed that several countries among Washington’s allies have an unfavourable view of the US especially of Trump. Clearly four years of Trump’s disruptive impact on the world and the blows delivered to an already fraying rules-based international order have dented America’s standing, eroded its influence and diminished its soft power. Biden will try to reverse that.

On Afghanistan and the US commitment to withdraw its remaining forces, Biden’s policy will not differ much from Trump’s. He has long been a critic of America’s prolonged military engagement and as vice president had opposed the military surge President Barack Obama ordered in 2009. Asked in an interview earlier this year what he would do if the Taliban ended up in power he said: [I have] “zero responsibility. The responsibility I have is to protect America’s national interest and not put our women and men in harm’s way to try to solve every single problem in the world by use of force.”

A significant departure from Trump’s policy would be re-entering the Iran nuclear deal. Biden has repeatedly asserted he would re-commit to JCPOA if Iran complied and seek to strengthen it with partners. He believes this would help to re-establish US credibility. In the Middle East, it remains an open question how Biden’s frequent criticism of Saudi Arabia would translate into policy. His support for Israel will continue to be firm, in line with long-standing US policy.

The biggest foreign policy challenge will remain America’s relations with China — this century’s most consequential bilateral relationship with far-reaching global impact — which Trump pushed into a state of intense hostility by his confrontational approach. Given the anti-China mood and bipartisan consensus in the US, Biden will likely adopt a tough line. But while continuing to engage in strategic competition — and containment — Biden will be less combative and abrasive than Trump and look for areas of cooperation on global issues such as climate change. For its part, China will want to stabilise relations by reaching out to President-elect Biden. China’s vice foreign minister recently expressed the hope that the new administration would work with China and “meet it halfway to focus on cooperation and manage differences”.

Predictability and stability in US foreign policy would be the most important change from the Trump years. But it is the home front where bitter discord and divisions have made the country virtually ungovernable that will receive the greatest attention from the next president. A Financial Times editorial put it succinctly: “No postwar president has taken over a more beleaguered nation.”


Maleeha Lodhiis a former ambassador to the US, UK and UN.



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